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When Children Pit Parents Against Each Other During the Court Process

During the divorce process it isn’t uncommon for children to oftentimes take advantage of situations where the parents are unable to co-parent by pitting one parent against the other especially in contentious custody custody and visitation matters. When one parent attempts to set rules and boundaries in his or her home with the children, children oftentimes either “complain” to the other parent about what mommy or daddy makes them do at their homes or they simply refuse to follow the rules in one parent’s home knowing that there may be little the parent can do (especially if the parents are in the middle of a custody dispute in Court). Statements such as “I don’t have to do that at mom’s house” or “Dad doesn’t make us do that” become commonplace in those types of situations. It becomes even more frustrating when the other parent lashes out with accusations against the parent attempting to set parameters within his or her home. Many parents are able to co-parent and are able to put on a united front to their children by reinforcing the fact that they are to respect the rules in mom or dad’s house. The situation is further complicated by the fact that one parent may be “buying” the children’s affections by giving various gifts, taking them on various trips or otherwise letting the children stay up late, eat what they want, forgo chores, etc. or disparaging the other parent (whether consciously or unconsciously). It is crucial that parents going through the litigation process are aware of the following:

1. Communication with the other parent is key. When you experience one parent refusing to co-parent or discuss issues, ask that communications take place in a controlled forum such as ourfamilywizard.com or talking parents.com. These sorts of online communication channels preemptively avoid issues with allegations of never receiving the message from the other parent; not knowing he or she had to respond to the message; and complaints that one parent failed to share information regarding the children’s schooling, doctor’s appointments, sport activities and other issues that involve the children’s health, education and welfare. It is also a controlled atmosphere wherein verbal attacks are minimized or completely void because the parents know that their communications may be “seen” by the court at some time.

2. Make sure that your custody and visitation agreements (whether temporary or permanent) have provisions that provide that parents are not to involve the children in the proceedings; that they are not to discuss the business of the case with the children (except may be in the presence of a therapist if therapy has been ordered or agreed to) and to otherwise not use the children as messengers between the parents. Just as important are provisions that provide neither parent is to speak negatively about the other parent, disparage the other parent in front of the children or otherwise alienate the affections of the children for the other parent (or allow third parties to do so). By having such orders in place, it may preemptively avoid such issues from occurring. If they do occur, there may be various enforcement remedies that can be brought against the noncomplying parent, including a change of custody (in some of the most severe cases of alienation).

3. In highly contentious cases, consider having a case manager assigned. A case manager is usually a therapist that is approved generally by the Court to act in the capacity of a facilitator between the parents. Although a case manager generally cannot make orders, he or she can provide an objective recommendation on issues wherein the parents cannot agree. This is especially true in highly contentious cases where the parents cannot agree or communicate with one another on issues involving the children.

4. Consider a parallel parenting order that avoids issues with having to co-parent with the other parent. Parallel parenting is not often invoked in many cases (as most parents are able to put their differences aside for the sake of the children), but it can be an effective tool in those situations where the most simplest of requests or issues involving the children are blown out of portion by one parent. Parallel parenting limits the propensity of disputes from arising by limiting each parent’s contact with the other.

Every child custody case does not have to be a war of the roses, but keep in mind there are various tools and remedies available to curb issues from ever becoming issues and more importantly bringing peace to your home and preservation of your time (and relationship) with your children.