What happens when time with your children is being interfered with by the other parent? What if “activities”, “homework”, “sleepovers with friends”, or “illnesses”, become common themes of why your child isn’t able to spend time with you any more? It could be that the other parent is trying to deny you parenting time and undermine your relationship with your child. This is unfair to your child, to you, and it can be very harmful to a child’s development. It can also be a reason for a court to take custody rights away from the offending parent.
In a recent case, decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, a parent ended up losing legal custody rights to the child, based upon ongoing denial of the other parent’s time with the child, and, ongoing refusal to provide the other parent with medical and child care information.
In upholding the lower court’s decision to change custody, the Court of Appeals looked at evidence that the parent had ‘persistently and willfully’ denied or interfered with parenting time and access to information concerning the child. In the courts words the parent’s ongoing interference was “creating a hostile emotional environment” for the child.
The court looked at some examples of what the offending parent was doing, including:
-denied parenting time “at least 15 times” within 18 months;
-refused to timely communicate about the child’s health; and
-unilaterally changed the location of parenting-time exchanges;
-raised accusations of sexual impropriety when the other parent indicated
willingness to apply the child’s vaginal medication;
-unilaterally changed childcare and preschool arrangements.
In deciding that a change of custody rights was the right remedy, the Court look at the law on custody modification.
Changing custody is very difficult for a court to do. A change of custody rights requires a finding of “harm” to the child. That can include harm to the emotional health or development of the child. Minn. Stat. § 518.18(d)(iv). In its 1997 decision, Geibe v. Geibe, the court decided that “harm” can include risk of harm flowing from isolation from relatives. 571 N.W.2d 774, 779 (Minn. App. 1997). (finding repeated, concrete efforts to prevent contact, could reasonably impact emotional health).
The Court found that the burden of proving “harm” is met where there is consistent exposure to hostility, police interventions at parenting-time exchanges, and efforts to undermine a relationship between the parent and child. This is a “toxic environment” for the child, one which is emotionally and developmentally harmful.
The Court decided that it was time to remove the child from an environment where there were ongoing efforts to undermine the relationship with the other parent. A court is within its discretion to change custody in favor of the parent who does not show a pattern of interfering with parenting time.
If you or someone you know is experiencing ongoing interference with parenting time or parental rights, please make sure to get proper advice about what can be done to prevent it.
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