Divorces are almost always difficult, but divorces that occur to couples with teenage children can be especially challenging. While a parent cannot control what his or her children feel or think regarding the other parent, he or she can help foster a healthy relationship by refraining from actively doing things to impede the children’s relationship with the other parent. One South Florida mother’s decision to engage in such counterproductive, hindering behavior ultimately earned her a judgment of contempt, which the 4th District Court of Appeal recently upheld.
When M. (husband) and L. (wife) divorced in 2011, they had three children together, some of whom were well into their teenage years. The couple’s divorce judgment called for shared parenting responsibility and established a timesharing schedule that placed the children primarily with their mother.
Several months later, the couple was back in court, with the father asking the court to judge the mother to be in contempt, claiming that she was intentionally trying to impede his maintaining a relationship with the children. The couple’s sons were rejecting having a relationship with their father, and the mother was to blame, he argued. Ultimately, the court found the mother in contempt and ordered her to attend therapy. The mother, in the court’s opinion, had actively empowered her sons to reject having a relationship with their father and skip visitation time with him.
The mother appealed the trial court’s decision. She claimed she could not comply with the parenting plan because the boys chose, of their own volition, not to spend time with their father. The appeals court disagreed.
Clearly, a mother cannot always force her children to feel warmly toward their father after a divorce and control a teenage child’s decision to reject a close bond with one parent, but, in this case, there was evidence suggesting that the mother proactively tried to thwart the parenting plan. On several occasions, she reportedly failed to transport the boys to their father’s home for visitation, as required by the parenting plan. She also, in multiple instances, allegedly scheduled social events for the boys on the evenings when the boys were supposed to visit their father. The boys’ hostility toward their father was not what placed the mother in legal trouble. It was the mother’s own actions of placing hurdles in front of the father as he sought to spend time with the children.
The mother’s court-mandated therapy was not a proper remedy, however. With any contempt case, the person found in contempt must personally hold the key to clearing herself. In this mother’s case, the court required her to attend therapy until she could convince her boys that she wanted to see them form a close, healthy bond with their father. Under these terms, the mother did not control her path out of contempt, since the trigger to ending her required therapy was a change in the boys’ attitudes, not her own psychological condition.
Divorce cases involving children are hard — for the parents and the children. Families must forge new interpersonal dynamics. If your ex has the children the majority of the time, your ability to maintain a growing relationship with your children may depend in large part on the cooperativeness (or lack thereof) of your ex-spouse. If your ex-spouse is not acting in accordance with what the law and the court have required, you may need the aid of experienced counsel to help. For thoughtful solutions and aggressive legal advocacy for your case, reach out to the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our attorneys have the experience, knowledge, and determination to help you defend your right to a relationship with your children.
Contact us online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule a confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
Failure to Foster Relationship with Child’s Father Not Grounds for Mandating Psych Evaluation of Mother, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 19, 2014
Contempt Proceedings and Florida Family Law Disputes, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 28, 2013