When you’re embroiled in a high-conflict divorce and custody matter, the arguments don’t simply end when the family court judge renders a decision regarding how the custodial arrangement will be for the foreseeable future.
Sadly, our experience has been that arguments centered around the child custody order/agreement very often have nothing at all to do with the division of parenting time. The bulk of problems that one parent has with the high-conflict ex-spouse will be focused on one or more of the little details that so often are put into the order to avoid conflict! Now, we would never tell you not to work diligently to have enough details over potential “flash points.” Without a fair amount of detail addressing common situations, especially when your ex is the high-conflict variety, every situation becomes a tool for engagement with the target parent. Still, in extreme cases, a vindictive ex-partner will work quite hard to exploit language in the order so that they may create conflict where it should be avoided. The purpose behind having a comprehensive parenting plan is so that when a high-conflict ex tries to create conflict, you are in a better position to defend yourself and perhaps even see the court impose sanctions against the other party for willfully causing the strife.
When child custody arguments occur there are a few ways that they can be handled. In high-conflict cases, options outside of a court room will often fail. More than a few people have become frustrated with parenting coordinators, mediators, guardians ad litem, and others who are in place to minimize and settle conflict before parents march towards another custody hearing. Despite this reality, courts often order parents into mediation as a first order of business.
Mediation is a process that allows parents to work out child custody arguments and avoid family court with a judge determining a final outcome. If parents are unable or unwilling get the matter settled, the court hearing will occur in order to settle the dispute and determine the new terms of child custody order or parenting plan, if a change is appropriate in the judge’s view.
Child custody arguments can center on any element of a custody agreement:
- The custodial schedule itself.
- The school the children will attend.
- The church or other religious institution the children will have.
- Scheduling of child visitation (supervised or otherwise).
- Child exchange locations.
- Enrollment and attendance with extracurricular activities.
- Telephone access.
- Computer use and internet access.
- Television shows, movie viewing, or other entertainment options.
- Disciplinary styles or other matters.
- Health, fitness, and dietary issues.
- Choice of doctors, dentists, or other health professionals.
The list is virtually endless, and probably is for some high-conflict parents. In such cases, child custody arguments are often more about one or both parent’s anger and hatred of one another and have very little to do with the children, the custody arrangement, or anything except “the fight.” Some people simply can’t let go and move on.
When these flare-ups occur, mediation (and similar options) can play a crucial role in settling the matters provided cooler heads ultimately prevail. If that doesn’t occur, the family court will play the final role in an effort to (hopefully) protect the interests of the kids. If parents allow it, the family court will be the final authority on the matters at hand.
There are two ways to start the ball rolling to get a serious disagreement with regard to the parenting plan settled by the court. The ultimate outcome is to be determined depending upon the path that the parents take (or the high-conflict parent forces):
- If it’s a matter that was not addressed in the parenting order/agreement – the aggrieved party will likely have to file for a modification to the custody order. The goal is to have the matter addressed and added to the existing custody order.
- If it’s a matter that was addressed in the parenting order/agreement – the aggrieved party will likely file a contempt-of-court petition against the parent allegedly willfully violating the order. The goal is to have the offending parent sanctioned in any number of ways and, if necessary, have the custody order modified to close any loopholes. Depending upon the seriousness of the offense, a change in the custodial arrangement is not unheard of.
We can provide guidance addressing some of the issues you may be experiencing. With our help in preparing a course of potential action, you can go to a qualified attorney and discuss how to get your plan implemented.