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Interference with Parental Rights of Noncustodial Parent as Grounds for Modification of Child Custody

Interference with Parental Rights of Noncustodial Parent as Grounds for Modification of Child Custody

by Edward B. Borris


Interference by one parent in the relationship of a child and the other parent is almost never in the child's best interests. In fact, in extreme cases, actions by one parent to alienate the affections of the child from the other parent, to interfere win the other parent's visitation rights, or to remove the child to a distant state or country can often lead to liability in tort. See generally E. Borris, "Torts Arising Out of Interference with Custody and Visitation," 7 Divorce Litigation 192 (1995). Tort liability is not always an option, however, as many courts refuse to award damages based upon interference with visitation rights. E.g., Cosner v. Ridinger, 882 P.2d 1243 (Wyo.1994).

A noncustodial parent is not always left without a remedy, however, simply because courts in that parent's jurisdiction refuse to recognize tort actions arising out of interference with his or her parental rights. This article discusses a different type of liability which may result from interference with the noncustodial parent's rights: loss of custody. The article will first discuss whether a party may generally obtain a change of custody based upon such interference. The article will then examine specific acts by a custodial parent which may cause a court to change custody, including denial of visitation rights, alienation of the child's affections away from the noncustodial parent, and removal of the child to a distant jurisdiction. The section on alienation of the child's affections includes a discussion of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and recent cases that have dealt with PAS. The article concludes with a suggestion of possible provisions that practitioners may insert in custody decrees in order to prevent future problems between custodial and noncustodial parents.

Interference Amounting to a Substantial Change in Circumstances

Most courts and experts agree that except in unusual cases it is most important for a child to have a strong relationship with both parents. Thus, courts will typically conclude that an award of custody to the parent who is most likely to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent is in the child's best interests. For this reason, if a custodial parent has demonstrated in the past a pattern of interference with the relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent, unless other facts dictate a different holding, courts will frequently conclude that a substantial change in circumstances justifying a change of custody has occurred.

Not surprisingly, there is a long-standing tradition of awarding a change of custody where the custodial parent has interfered with the parental rights of the other parent. The Court of Appeals of Maryland clearly established this point in Berlin v. Berlin, 239 Md. 52, 210 A.2d 380 (1965). In Berlin, the parties entered into a written separation agreement. Pursuant to the agreement, incorporated into the court's order, custody of the children was awarded to the mother, and the father received reasonable visitation rights. In addition, the parties also agreed that the mother would notify the father if the mother moved out of the Washington metropolitan area. Subsequently, the mother began denying the father his right to visitation. For this reason, the father requested a change in custody. The trial court granted the father's request, and the mother appealed.

Specific Acts of Interference Which May Cause a Court to Change Custody

After a practitioner determines whether the relevant jurisdiction may award a change of custody based upon acts of interference with the noncustodial parent's rights, it must be determined which particular acts will justify such a change. The relevant authority indicates that three distinct fact patterns may justify a change. First, courts often award a change of custody if the custodial parent repeatedly interferes with the noncustodial parent's court- ordered visitation rights. Second, courts are inclined to award a change of custody if the custodial parent alienates the child's affections away from the noncustodial parent. Third, if the custodial parent removes the child to a distant jurisdiction without informing the noncustodial parent of the move, courts frequently order a change of custody. Each of these scenarios will be addressed in turn.

Frustration of Visitation Rights

The most common form of interference with parental rights which is remedied by courts occurs when custodial parents consistently refuse to turn children over to the noncustodial parents for court-ordered visitation. The fact that courts frequently order changes of custody in this circumstance is perfectly understandable, since court-ordered visitation is often the noncustodial parent's only connection to his or her children. If this visitation is frustrated, the child's best interests are clearly injured because the child will be completely deprived of a relationship with the noncustodial parent.

What is the research that supports such a schedule? Where is the data that confirms that such a plan is in the best interest of the child?

Well, reader, you can spend your time from now until eternity researching the literature, and YOU WILL NOT DISCOVER ANY SUPPORTING DATA for the typical visitation arrangement with the non-residential parent! The reality is that this arrangement is based solely on custom. And just like the short story, "The Lottery," in which the prizewinner is stoned to death, the message is that deeds and judgments are frequently arrived at based on nothing more than habit, fantasy, prejudice, and yes, on "junk science."

This family therapist upholds the importance of both parents playing an active and substantial role in their children's lives----especially in situations when the parents are apart. In order to support the goal for each parent to provide a meaningfully and considerable involvement in the lives of their children, I affirm that the resolution to custody requires an arrangement for joint legal custody and physical custody that maximizes the time with the non-residential----with the optimal arrangement being 50-50, whenever practical. It is my professional opinion that the customary visitation arrangement for non-residential parents to visit every other weekend and one night during the week is not sufficient to maintain a consequential relationship with their children. Although I have heard matrimonial attorneys, children's attorneys, and judges assert that the child needs the consistency of the same residence, I deem this assumption to be nonsense. I cannot be convinced that the consistency with one's bed trumps consistency with a parent!

Should the reader question how such an arrangement can be judiciously implemented which maximizes the child's time---even in a 50-50 arrangement----with the non-residential parent, I direct the reader to the book, Mom's House, Dads House, by the Isolina Ricci, PhD.

Indeed, the research that we do have supports the serious consequences to children when the father, who is generally the non-residential parent, does not play a meaningful role in lives of his children. The book, Fatherneed, (2000) by Dr. Kyle Pruitt, summarizes the research atYale University about the importance of fathers to their children. And another post on this page summarizes an extensive list of other research.

Children of divorce or separation of their parents previously had each parent 100% of the time and obviously cannot have the same arrangement subsequent to their parents' separation. But it makes no sense to this family therapist that the result of parental separation is that the child is accorded only 20% time with one parent and 80% with the other. What rational person could possibly justify this?

We only support organizations who show an understanding that children need both parents, and that either parent is equally capable of the choice to perpetrate hate or declare peace.

All were familiar with alienation and it's results. Everyone was not only gratified to see PAAO at the event, they all also acknowledged that PA is either a form of Domestic violence or on the continuum of Domestic Violence behaviors.

¿Que es la Custodia Compartida?

viso at CUSTODIA PATERNA - 12 hours ago

Viernes, 3 de Mayo, 2013 Enlaces: - Un Estado-niñera, controlador, interventor y protector - 26-4 PADRES ARGENTINOS AUTOCONVOCADOS - 26-4 Padres de parana por la custodia compartida Año 2013 - 26-4 ASSOCIATION - ROBERTO TERRILE - CONVOCATORIA PARA EL 26 DE ABRIL 2013 A LOS TRIBUNALES DE FAMILIA - 26-4, 2013 Padres de la Guarda - 26-4 DERECHOS DE LA NIÑEZ Y ADOLESCENCIA, POLITICA DE ESTADO, YA! - Cibercampaña "vírica" de apoyo al 26-4 más enlaces al final de la entrada El 26 de Abril es el Día Internacional de la Igualdad Parental y la Corresponsabilidad Familiar. Por ello, el mejor... more »

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