All too often after a divorce, parents who have contempt for each other end up dragging their children into their battles with their ex-spouse.
Some use the children as pawns and deliberately turn them against the other parent.
Even if they have a parenting plan in place that doesn’t always mean they will follow it. However, failure to follow a court order not only can result in additional attorney fees, but also can get you in serious trouble with the court in the form of a contempt judgment.
Ford v. Ford (No. 4D13-1369), a recent appellate court ruling, underscores the challenges that family courts face when dealing with parental interference of a child’s timesharing with the other parent.
At the time of their divorce in 2011, the Fords had three children. Their parental agreement set up a timesharing schedule in which the mother was the primary caretaker.
However, several months after the order was agreed upon, the father went back to court to ask that his ex-wife be held in contempt. He alleged that she was frustrating his ability to have a good relationship with his children by discussing details of the divorce; making derogatory statements about him to the kids; refusing to stop them from disrespecting their father; and interfering with his visitation by failing to bring the children to his house, or by allowing them to “opt out” of visitation.
Numerous hearings and motions were filed. The court appointed a reunification therapist to treat the family and a psychologist to conduct a social investigation of the family.
Finally, after a full court hearing on the contempt motions, the trial court found the wife to be in contempt and ordered her to undergo therapy and to continue getting treatment until she was able to convince her children that they should see and love their father.
The mother appealed claiming the trial court erred because it failed to identify specific provisions of the plan that she violated and relied on the “aspirational goal” of fostering a good relationship between the children and her ex-husband. She also argued that she didn’t have the ability to comply with visitation because it was the children who were refusing to see and stay with their father.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s finding of contempt, which included her having to pay for the cost of a court-appointed psychologist. The court found there was enough evidence to demonstrate that the mother proactively refused to abide by the parenting plan and even failed to bring the children to see their father on his visitation days.
However, the appellate court reversed the order requiring her to attend therapy because it was “imprecise and vague as to its duration” which relied on the children having a change of attitude toward their father, rather than a change in the former’s wife’s psychological condition.
During the pendency of the case many motions were filed by both parties and there were numerous hearings. In fact, the case dragged on so long that the eldest son turned 18 and aged out of the system.
Once again, this underscores the fact that parties to divorce cases often become both financially and emotionally entangled in the system and, rather than resolving the matter quickly, they continue to lose valuable time with their children, not to mention a significant amount of money in attorney fees.
While there are no across-the-board solutions, creating a shared parenting agreement that includes equal, or nearly equal timesharing, can make it harder to alienate one parent because they are an equally constant presence in their children’s lives.
While allowing a child to live with both parents equally has its challenges, when parents work together for the benefit of the child, research has show they are happier and well adjusted. Earlier this year, I wrote an article outlining the benefits of shared parenting. Click here to read the article.
Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation.
Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.
If you are interested in a consultation or have questions do not hesitate to contact Sustainable Family Solutions. Simply click here and send us a message and we will get right back to you.