Keep children out of family court conflicts, judges warn
Using children as negotiation pawns is the worst decision a parent could make when involved in a legal dispute. This may seem obvious to most people, but it continues to be a front and center issue in many child custody cases. While judges deplore and decry behavior such as a parent withholding children from the other parent because of perceived inadequate parenting skills, it is often only when those judges threaten to take action that the message sinks in. And the actions they can take can be drastic.
Take the case of a parent who is bound by a court order to exercise parenting time every second weekend and who decides that the other parent is neglecting the children. Should that “access parent” unilaterally decide to change the custody arrangement and refuse to return the children to the “primary care parent”? The answer is No! When bound by a court order, parents cannot bring changes to the custody arrangement without first obtaining the court’s permission. Should a parent be convinced that the children are being neglected, he or she should take a series of steps before even considering not returning the children. First, contact a lawyer. Second, consider referring the matter to a child welfare agency. Third, discuss with your lawyer the possibility of setting an emergency court appearance. Changing this sequence in any way, especially by unilaterally deciding to withhold the children from the other parent could prove very costly.
For example, court orders often contain a clause allowing peace officers to intervene should any of the conditions of the order not be complied with. The non-conforming parent could even be held in contempt of court and arrested. In all cases, the non-conforming parent will create an indelible impression on the judge, which could have an impact on future court proceedings. This is especially true in smaller communities where there is only one judge who hears court matters.
Having said this, it only makes sense not to place children in the middle of a family dispute. In any event, courts are only interested in the best interests of the children. The parent who shows the most respect for this fundamental principle is the one who will most likely gain the court’s favor.