Child custody matters are often complicated and stressful for all parties involved. When a parent wishes to prevent the other parent from seeing the children, many factors could come into play. In most cases, a parent cannot keep their child away from the other parent unless there is a court order that says they can.
The following situations are often a reason this question arises.
- There is an existing court order regarding parenting time, but one parent is interfering with the other’s time by violating the order.
- There is an existing parenting time and child custody order, but the children refuse to see one of the parents and that parent believes it is a result of encouragement from the other parent.
- The children live with one parent after they have split up (regardless of whether they were married), and the parent the children live with is not allowing the other to see the children.
If There Is No Court Order, Can One Parent Prevent the Other From Seeing the Children?
This act by a parent occurs at times and is known as gate-keeping. There are two variations of the way a parent limits or prohibits the other’s time with their children: protective and restrictive.
- Protective gatekeeping. A parent may attempt protective gatekeeping if they have concerns about the other parent. They may stop allowing the other parent to see the children because their concerns are grounded in facts, or they may do so for other reasons. It is important to understand that although a parent may have concerns regarding lack of parenting skills, lack of anger management, or substance abuse, they are not entitled to stop the other parent from seeing their children without a court order.Unfortunately, there is no standard for “the perfect parent.” One parent may believe the other lacks their level of parenting skills, but the other parent can still be capable of taking care of the children without endangering them. It may seem that the parent is not justified in keeping the children away. However, in some cases, they are. As complicated as the circumstance may be, it is crucial to understand that even if they are justified, they still need a court order to stop the other parent from seeing the children. The best way to achieve that goal is to seek appropriate visitation and custody orders from the courts.
The parent whose contact with the children is being limited or prevented, however, should also take action if they want to maintain their parenting time. By adhering to the other parent’s wishes to keep the peace, they may establish a status quo that could make it more difficult to get the courts to see their side. Seeking immediate visitation and child custody orders is the best way for that parent to proceed, as well.
- Restrictive gatekeeping. When a parent prevents their children from seeing the other parent with no justification at all, it is called restrictive gatekeeping. Oftentimes, this action is a means of seeking revenge because the parent is upset about the break-up of their relationship. In such situations, the restrictive parent often creates ill-founded allegations of neglect or abuse by the other. It is essential to note that restrictive gatekeepers typically have little respect for the role of the other parent in their children’s lives. They may even disparage the other parent or that parent’s friends and family. They sometimes do this by making sure the children overhear their disparaging words, but sometimes make these statements directly to the children. Another tactic parents who engage in restrictive gatekeeping often employ is placing unreasonable conditions on the other parent to feel they are in control.
- Co-conspirators. In many situations, grandparents become part of the parent’s restrictive gatekeeping by helping to alienate the children from the other parent.
It is vital for the parent who is being prevented from seeing their children to seek help from the family courts in restrictive gate-keeping scenarios, as the other parent is typically not reasonably justified in limiting contact, but intent instead on ruining the other parent’s relationship with their children. Failure to seek court action may result in a broken bond between the parent and their children, and it may empower the restrictive parent to further limit contact.
Joint Custody May Be a Poor Option When There Is a Restrictive Gatekeeper
In many circumstances, the misconduct of a restrictive gatekeeper may be a reason for the other parent to seek primary or sole custody from the courts. Such parents often demonstrate that they cannot reasonably co-parent in the best interests of the children. Even if the courts deny the custody request, the fact that a motion was made sets a precedent that can be referred back to in later family court hearings. It is important to note, however, that a parent should have time to dedicate to the care of their children and the necessary parenting skills to do so if they ask for primary or sole custody.
Can a Parent Say It’s Their Children’s Choice to Not See the Other Parent?
There are certain scenarios in which children may not want to see one of their parents, such as those in which the parent severely neglected or abused them. Sadly, there are other situations in which one parent improperly influences the children against the other.
When the latter circumstance is the reason for a child not wanting to see one parent, it is referred to as parental alienation. This is a tactic vengeful parents sometimes use to inflict significant harm on the other by destroying their relationship with their children.
Unfortunately, there are few ways to stop one parent from attempting to alienate the other from their children. To do so, one of the following must occur.
- The parent who is being victimized can ask for a court order to remove custody from the parent who is attempting the alienation.
- The parent who is alienating the other can decide to voluntarily change their behavior.
When one parent claims it is their children’s choice not to see the other parent, the family court may view it with skepticism. For a judge to see the “child’s choice” rationale as valid, it will likely need to be backed up by significant evidence that the parent who is restricted from seeing the children did something to cause significant harm to their relationship with the children.
Children generally do not stop caring for one parent or wish to stop spending time with them unless they have a concrete explanation. The family courts know this and can recognize interference with the parent-child relationship, such as alienation.
Can a Parent Refuse to Follow a Court Order and Prevent the Other From Seeing Their Children?
In most cases, there is no legal way a parent can refuse to allow the other to see their children if there is a court order in place. When a judge grants an order, the following statements are true.
- A court order is not simply a suggestion.
- Court orders direct both parental parties to comply.
- Any parent who stops their children from seeing the other parent by refusing to comply with a court order is in violation of that order.
When a parent stops the other from seeing their children despite a court order stating otherwise, they are in contempt of court, and legal action may be taken against them. The parent who is being denied time with their children may need to pursue such legal action to ensure their own rights.
Is There Ever a Good Reason for a Parent to Violate a Custody Order?
Directly violating a court order is never a good idea, as it is against the law. However, there are certain circumstances in which a parent may wonder if they should. For instance, if one parent is endangering the children’s safety or health by abusing them or through other improper conduct, the other parent may feel that their only option is to violate the order. There are other ways to approach such situations, though. For instance, the parent can attempt to restrict contact with the other by contacting the proper authorities, such as child protective services or the police. In some cases, the parent may also be able to seek emergency child custody relief. This is an option if they feel there is an immediate and critical risk of harm to their children.
Always Seek Legal Counsel When Approaching Child Custody Issues
Every family dynamic is unique, and there are a variety of factors that may influence a parent’s desire to limit or prohibit the other parent’s time with their children. In some cases, these wishes are justified and appropriate, but in others, they are rooted in spite or revenge. If you are on either side of this dilemma, either as a parent who wishes to stop the other from seeing your children or one who is unfairly being denied parenting time, the legal professionals at the Khalaf Law Firm can help. Our extensive experience in family law gives us insight into resolving custody issues that parents sometimes fail to recognize on their own. Visit our website today to see how we can help your family.