August 27th, 2018

Parent Conflict in Child Custody Cases

I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw an article titled “Angelina Jolie required to give Brad Pitt more access to their kids”, detailing the latest celebrity child custody battle.

While Jolie was given primary custody of the children, she and Pitt have a shared arrangement during the summer. While I do not know what standard practice is for California Courts, in Pennsylvania it is common for the non-custodial parent to have additional time in the summer months when the children are not in school.

Apparently, Jolie has been making claims that the children do not want to go with their father and, based on what the Judge said in his most recent Order, she may have been actively fanning those flames. The Court directed that Jolie tell the children, “The Court has determined that not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them” and that “they are safe with their father.”

Upon reading that, I was immediately struck by the similarity to Pennsylvania Custody Law. All family law practitioners have explained to their clients, more times than they can count, that when in a battle for custody you cannot win by pitting the children against the other parent. In fact, that is a surefire way to lose.

In 2011, the Pennsylvania legislature moved away from the basic best interest of the children standard, and put into place 16 specific factors the Court must consider when making a child custody determination. A few of those factors including the following:

  • Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact with the other parent?
  • Are there attempts of parent to turn the child against the other parent?
  • What is the level of conflict between the parties and willingness of the parties to cooperate with each other?

As you can see, the legislature is making a point to focus on the ability of the parents to work together when raising a child. If your child custody case makes it to a trial before a Judge, that Judge will look at all 16 factors and see which parent “wins” each one. If you are the parent that is consistently refusing to let the other parent have contact with the children, or are denigrating the other parent in front of the children, the Judge will likely find those factors in favor of the other parent.

In fact, if a parent continues to behave in the above manner, that parent can lose periods of custodial time. It appears that the Judge hearing the Jolie-Pitt matter told Jolie just that. He is reported to have said that if this behavior continues, it may result in a reduction of time for Jolie and the Court could order that Pitt exercise primary physical custody.

It is important to remember that the children in divorce never chose that. Accordingly, sometimes the Court must step in to make sure that that the parents who did choose the divorce do not poison the children against either parent.

Attorney Kellie Rahl-Heffner provides counseling to families facing domestic issues including separation, divorce, child custody, and child support.

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