By: Sarah T. McCain
I recently sat around a dinner table with a variety of women in different situations. The one item all shared was that their young children were going to be outside of the home for a period of time. The circumstances varied, ranging from a first sleepover to going to stay at dad’s house for the weekend. However, one item was consistent in that all of the women were deeply curious as to what would go on during this time away and what would be said. In child custody (parental responsibilities) cases, this become even more of an issue, especially when you have concerns that the child(ren) are not being cared for appropriately or when you have concerns that parental alienation may be taking place in the form of the child(ren) hearing negative statements about you or your home.
The reality is that when the child(ren) are at the other parent’s home, you do not have say in what takes place in terms of what they eat, wear, or even minor disciplinary issues. The court will generally accept that both parents are qualified to make in-home decisions related to the care and upbringing of the children while they are in their respective homes. They will not require oversight by one parent over the other. This can lead one parent to engaging in essentially pumping the children for information upon their return from the other’s house. This is not appropriate and courts do frown upon such behavior. Furthermore, I find in these instances that children are more in tune to what is taking place between their parents than they are usually given credit for. In these cases, they will tell each parent what they believe that parent wants to hear. If they believe the parent wants to hear that the other parent is mean or generally not caring for them they will say something along these lines, whether it is true or not. It is important to stay on top of what your children are saying as they will often make statements, without prompts, which may give you insight as to what is taking place in the other parent’s home. If you don’t press them, you may find that information freely flows.
You will find in pretty much all child custody orders that the court or the attorneys overseeing the case will include language equating to a non-disparagement clause. This is meant to act as a warning to both parents to be careful of what is being said in front of and around the children during their parenting time. This includes not just parents, but the individuals whom the parent chooses to surround the minor children with. It is the court’s intention that this language will remind both parents that it is inappropriate to talk to or around the children in such a way that the other parent or their home is made to look bad. However, in reality sometimes this continues to take place despite the best intentions of the court or counsel. If it becomes so much of a problem that it is impacting the parent-child relationship, it may be time to consider looking to an outside professional to provide guidance, such as a therapist or a child and family investigator. One of these individuals can not only provide assistance for your family but they may also testify in court on your behalf that this behavior is taking place. Without this, you will likely end up in a situation of presenting hearsay into the Court record, which will not happen. My primary point being that though you may not know everything that is going on in the other parent’s home, there are ways to potentially prevent some concerning behaviors and/or find out if troubling things are going on.
Recently, technology has become essential for many individuals to prove their case in terms of recording what one person is saying. Obviously, this can only be done when you are in the vicinity of the other parent, and of course should be done legally. One of the moms during this dinner mentioned a device she was giving her child to wear so that she could listen in to his day. This technology is available, but likely crosses so many legal and family law boundaries that I can’t advocate for clients to use it at this time.
Parenting after divorce or in a custody situation takes a lot of faith that the other parent is doing his or her best to take care of your child. You will never know everything that goes on and important information has a funny way of manifesting when needed. Well written orders can help, but only go so far. Fortunately, statute has an array of available remedies for when problems do arise, as will your Denver child custody lawyer.