It can be very difficult to watch your child go through feelings of sadness, confusion, frustration and guilt after you and your spouse get divorced or if you and your ex part ways. Sometimes children that are aware of the situation blame one of their parents for the breakup and will begin doing everything they can to keep from spending time with that parent. Often reunification therapy can help repair a broken relationship and help a child regain confidence and trust in a parent that may have been lost.
There are occasions when there are parental alienation behaviors on the part of one spouse and a child will refuse to visit with a parent as a result. Sometimes these behaviors are intentional, but they are often unintentional as well. If the child refuses to have parenting time or visitation with a parent and it is due to the actions or inactions of the other parent, that parent can seek assistance from the court by filing a complaint for modification.
Child support and parenting time are two different issues and the court will treat them that way. If your ex is behind on child support, they are still entitled to have parenting time with the child if there is a court order or judgment in effect allowing them to. If they are behind on child support, withholding visitation is not the solution. Doing this is essentially taking the law into your own hands and if you do this you may find yourself in hot water with the Court. Two wrongs don’t make a right and as frustrating as your situation might be, it is not the recommended course of action. Child support is enforced by filing a complaint for contempt which is something that should be done sooner than later in order to prevent any arrearages quickly snowballing out of control.
If your ex withholds the children from you during your parenting time, try to remain calm and not explode with anger if the children are present. If you have a court order or judgement, send a polite but firm email to your ex informing him or her that they are not following the court order. Also ask them in writing for the reasons why they denied the parenting time. It is important to have a solid paper trail of the communication you made to the other parent is not following the court orders. You are entitled to request make up time and if your ex refuses to give it to you, you may likely need to schedule an appointment to come meet with one of our attorneys about further legal action.
In Massachusetts, grandparents do have the right to visit with their grandchildren, but only under certain circumstances. Grandparents will ordinarily be allowed visitation rights in Massachusetts if they can demonstrate to the court that they have had a preexisting relationship with the child that amounted to that of a de facto parent and that failure to order visitation would cause significant harm to the child. This is a very different standard than what the Court employs when looking at visitation as it pertains to the parents of the child and the burden on the petitioning grandparent is much heavier. If the Court grants visitation with a grandparent and one parent objects to it, the visitation will likely need to take place during the parenting time of the non-objecting parent. Grandparent visitation cases can be difficult and the expertise of a skilled attorney is often necessary.
There are two approaches on how this parenting conundrum is handled. One viewpoint is that if you have a joint parenting plan or a plan that is approximately an equal split with the other parent, what you do on your parenting time is your business (generally speaking) and what the other parent does is his or her business. Because you both get equal shared time, it is up to each of you how you would like to spend it with your children. On the other hand, if you do not get as much time with your child as you would like you may successfully be able to argue that you should have the right of first refusal to care for the child during the other parent’s time if they find themselves in a position of needing a babysitter or having an alternate family member care for the child while they are unavailable. It is generally accepted that it is better for a child to be in the care of a parent rather than other third parties, whether they are family or not.