Guest post by Alison Sutak
In any discussion on parenting after divorce, there’s a heavy emphasis on working together, striving to be co-parents because that’s what helps to maintain stability and routine in your children’s lives, and enables them to adjust to the changes in their family life better. There are however, times when circumstances make co-parenting impossible and the involvement of one parent needs to be limited to ensure the safety of the child. Here are four important things to know about restricted parenting.
What Is Restricted Parenting?
Restricted parenting is not something that any parent should wish to impose on the other parent. It becomes a necessity when the well-being of your child is getting seriously compromised in other parent’s presence.
Restricted parenting means limiting the access and the time that a parent gets to spend with the child. The parent may also have limited say in important decisions regarding the child.
There are times when parents are able to agree to restricted parenting sometimes with the help of a mediator or their respective attorneys. This might happen where for example, one parent has been in treatment for alcoholism and has been sober for just a few months. That parent wants to work with the other parent to restore their trust and comfort that their child will not be endangered by spending time with them.
Other times, the question of restricted parenting becomes highly contentious and has to be resolved through the legal system. In this scenario, it’s not just the person against whom the restriction is being sought that comes under scrutiny but rather both the parents. This is to safe guard against false allegations and also because there are frequently counter-allegations in these cases. The approach to such evaluations vary by state and by the specific reasons for the restrictions. A basic investigation may be conducted by a Child Family Investigator. A more involved, detailed assessment would call for a Parenting Responsibilities Evaluator.
Child custody cases are very expensive. Whether you are fighting for or against restriction it is important that you retain an experienced and qualified legal counsel to represent you. These cases can get pushed in different directions and the best outcomes depend on expert guidance. This is not the time you to decide to represent yourself. There’s a real danger that your case could be lost because of a failure to follow court procedures rather than the merits of the specific parenting concerns.
When Is Restricted Parenting Necessary?
Restricted parenting is warranted whenever the safety of a child is compromised by being with their parent. Typical situations include alcohol and substance abuse, gambling addiction, physical or emotional abuse and neglect. Disagreeing with your ex’s parenting style is not usually a legitimate reason for seeking restricted parenting. However, a very aggressive, authoritarian style of parenting for example, may lead to restricted parenting because disciplinary actions cross the line into abuse. Similarly, a very libertarian or progressive parenting style permitting drug and alcohol use can also cross the line to endangering the safety of the child.
Another situation in which restricted parenting may be called for is where one parent does not have an established, positive relationship with the child. This can happen where the parent has had little involvement with the child possibly because they have chosen not to be involved, have been living in another part of the country or has been in incarcerated.
The onus is on you to prove that there is a need for restricted parenting. You will have to support your claim with evidence in the form of photographs, medical reports or testimonies, school records, and other documents.
Withholding a child from the other parent for an extended period of time with no good reason, can also be grounds for restricted parenting and could result in geographical limitations being imposed on residential time.
What Are The Different Forms Of Restricted Parenting
There are a variety of forms of restricted parenting.
- Supervised Exchange
When children are transitioning from one parent to another is frequently a flash point for conflict between parents. When this happens, parents are often required to conduct exchanges in a public place, such as a fast food restaurant or the parking lot of a supermarket or even at their local police station. When structuring an exchange like this doesn’t eliminate the conflict, the next solution is supervised exchanges.
These involve a neutral third party, either a private professional such as a therapist or a social worker or a center. The custodial parent will bring the child to the supervisor and then leaves. The other parent then comes and picks up the child. These exchanges are structured so that the parents never meet or even see each other. These are an option where a restraining order exists preventing contact between the parents.
Supervised exchanges are preferred in cases where the child is reconnecting with a parent after a long time and may need help with the transition.
- Supervised Visits
Supervised access is where a child’s time with their parent is monitored by a neutral party. That party may be a private professional, such as a therapist or could be an agency that offers this service. The monitors are trained to ensure that any restrictions associated with the visit are observed and they can refuse parenting time if the terms are violated, such as a parent who is obviously under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The monitors may also intervene if the conversation between the parent and child is inappropriate, such as making allegations against the other parent or discussing child support payments.
Supervised access may be part of the transition plan for a parent who has been absent from a child’s life as it allows both the parent and child to gradually build a relationship.
Reports from the supervisors may be requested by the court to evaluate whether a parent is complying with court orders or if restrictions can be eased.
- Restricted Overnight Stays
Overnight stays need to be well-planned in visitation policies, especially where the child is not very familiar with the other parent. Overnight stays may be restricted in the case of toddlers and infants because extended stays are not appropriate at their age. If you feel that sexual behavior of the other parent in any way has a detrimental effect on your child, then you can file for restriction of overnight visits. Courts do not look down on romantic affairs of parents, but if it has an effect on child’s well-being, then restricted parenting may be put in place.
- Restricted Decision Making
A court may also grant sole decision-making authority to a parent when there is clear evidence that the parents will be unable to cooperate in making decisions about their child’s education, health, religious or other needs. Examples of this include physical and emotional abuse and when a parent’s decision-making ability is impaired due to substance or alcohol abuse, or chronic and severe mental health conditions, for example. It may also be granted where one parent’s presence is unreliable or sporadic.
Decision-making may also be restricted where a parent has demonstrated that they have not acted in the child’s best interest, such as being physically abusive or neglectful.
Other options in limiting decision-making are parenting coordination and/or decision-making.
Avoid False Demands For Restricted Parenting
There are many occasions when parents falsely and purposely accuse each other to restrict parenting time and access. This is most often done to gain unfair advantage in child custody battles. The law and judges also realize this and do scrutinize the motive and credibility of the accusing parent. Courts are mandated to make decisions that are in best interests of the child, so trying to deny a child the right to be with a parent by leveling false accusations would be looked upon as a serious offense.
If you file a motion to restrict due to flimsy reasons like a difference in styles of parenting or with an ulterior motive like to exacting revenge, then the court can impose consequences such as having to bear the legal fees and expenses of the other party. You will also lose credibility, and this could impact not only the current proceedings but also future ones.
Every parent has the right to spend quality time with his or her child, and the law tries to ensure this as much as possible. Permanent restriction or elimination of parenting time is the last resort, and is employed only in the most heinous situations like sexual abuse of the child. You should always have your child’s well-being and safety as your foremost priority, and make decisions accordingly.
Alison Sutak is Senior Associate with Romanski Law Offices, New Jersey child custody lawyers.
Photo Credit: Cordell and Cordell