Thursday, May 8, 2008

Visitation, Parental Alienation Syndrome, and Contempt of Court

I cannot express my feelings when I read Vengeful mothers leave good fathers powerless to see child, says judge in The London Times. Not that we do hear of these kind of stories over here. I had a PAS case about ten years ago.

The “drip, drip, drip of venom” poured into the daughter’s ears by the mother included accusations of sexual abuse against the innocent father after the couple divorced, the judge said.

The former wife’s tactics were so successful that the daughter wrote to her father when she was 9 saying that she wished he was dead. The daughter is now 14. The identity of the family must be kept secret to protect her privacy.

Some times the best examples come from some place else. I have to remind people all too often that the responsibility for protecting one's rights lies with themselves and not the courts. Unattended for too long, I would say that this kind of case would have a similar outcome here as it did in England:

Lord Justice Ward told the father that the case was bordering on scandalous but the court was compelled to act solely in the best interests of the child. The girl would be too distressed if she was forced to spend time with her father after her mother’s “corrupting” campaign, he said.

“The father complains bitterly, passionately and with every justification that the law is sterile, impotent and utterly useless - we have to acknowledge there is a degree of force in what he says,” the judge told the Court of Appeal Civil Division.

By the way, bloody relations and Family Lore have written on this case. Bloody relations also posted a link to Enforcing Contact Orders: The Children and Adoption Act 2006. The blogs provide a bit more insight into the specific case and to the British statute but the abstract of the statute strikes me with a few resemblances to our Parenting Time Guidelines with one great difference. There does seem to be one great difference: a government agency that can proactively.

I say the solution lies with the non-custodial parent asserting their rights. I will agree wholeheartedly that our own courts would do well to take the same degree of action for denying visitation as they do for failing to pay child support. We do have statutes authorizing some forms of third party supervision, but all are discretionary with the trial court: IC 31-14-13-5 (Paternity cases: Supervision of placement); and IC 31-17-6(Appointment of Guardians Ad Litem and Court Appointed Special Advocates). What I cannot agree with is a presumption of shared custody.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 couples go to court to resolve child access disputes each year. Campaigners say that the courts too often side with the mother, are too ready to believe what she says and rarely take action if contact orders are flouted. They want courts to start from a legal presumption of shared parenting between mothers and fathers.
Again, bloody relations has a very long post on how her experience with shared custody in England. My experience with joint custody is why I am not encouraged by the prospect of a shared parenting presumption. What has been my experience? Fathers bullying mothers into joint custody so that they can keep a measure of control over the mother or two parents incapable of working together for the child's best interests.

I can think of something that would change my mind about a shared parenting presumption: parenting classes as a prerequisite to shared custody.

What is the non-custodial parent to do?
  1. Bring a contempt action against the custodial parent for every interference with parenting time. Time consuming but I can think of no better way to get the court's attention.
  2. If the custodial parent's interference is great enough, file a petition to modify custody.
It is then for the court to pay attention to the problem caused by the custodial parent.

Then, too, there are two other entities that need to pay attention to this problem. The first is the general public who pay taxes funding our judicial system. Why? Because they influence the General Assembly who pass the legislation upon which our family law runs and have the power denied the courts to create a more responsive system.


concernedfather said...

my son lives with his mother in Indian, I have made several attempts to contact him, his mother has turned off a cell phone that I purchased and pay the bill on, and her sister has answered the phone and told me you are not talking to him and hung up the phone, the mother does the same thing, is this parental interference and can I file charges on the sister, since she is neither a parent or guardian of my son.

Sam Hasler said...

Once again, I have to explain why there is a disclaimer to this blog, why this blog does not exist to answer specific legal questions.

It is unclear what jurisdiction's law covers this matter. Therefore, any advice may range from the bad to practicing law without a license.

What needs to be done is to contact a lawyer directly.