In two recently decided cases, custodial parents were penalized for interfering with visitation and attempting to alienate children from the non custodial parents. In one of the two cases, a mother lost custody of her child; in the other case, the mother was found in contempt and risked further consequences if the conduct continues.
In Chase v, Chase, a mother’s continued false accusations that the father was a pedophile, compelled the Appellate Division reverse a Family Court finding that granted custody to the mother.
The Appeals Court’s finding that the mother failed to produce the child for visitation, made repeated false and unsubstantiated claims that the father sexually abused the child, and repeatedly disobeyed various court orders warranted a change of custody. As a consequence of the mother’s conduct, the Court granted the father custody of the child.
In another case recently decided by the Suffolk County Family Court (Frank G. v. Carol G.), a mother was found to be in contempt of court for her failure to abide by the visitation provisions incorporated in a judgment of divorce.
In both cases, the courts were particularly upset by the fact that the mothers, by their own admission, acted as the sole arbiters of what was the best course of conduct for their children. Both mothers knowingly and intentionally disregarded court orders providing for the fathers’ visitation.
Both courts reiterated the axiom that interference with the relationship between a child and the non-custodial parent by the custodial parent has said to be an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the child as to per se raise a strong probability that the offending party is unfit to act as a custodial parent.
While the holdings of these two cases evidence a judicial hostility to the custodial parent’s attempts to alienate a child from the non-custodial parent, the facts unfortunately show that the non-custodial parent has a long and difficult course to enforce their visitation rights.
Since requests for a change in custody are, quite properly, closely scrutinized, a custodial parent accused of interfering with the non custodial parent’s visitation is frequently given gentle slaps on his/her wrists before facing the consequence of being held in contempt or losing custody.