Can a Parent Stop a Child From Seeing the Other Parent?
Whenever parents are separating, one parent is often asking this question. It generally comes up in the following situations:
- The parents (whether married or unmarried) are no longer together and the child resides with one of the parents. The parent with whom the child lives is limiting contact between the child and the other parent, but there is no current court order.
- The parents have an existing custody and visitation order, and one parent is violating the court order by interfering with the other parent’s parenting time.
- The parents have an existing child custody and visitation order, but the child refuses to see one parent. Essentially, one parent is stopping a child from seeing the other parent when a parent claims it is the “child’s choice.” For more information about the role of a child’s preference in custody cases, refer to our article entitled, The Role of a Child’s Preference in California Custody Cases.
Can a Parent Stop a Child from Seeing the Other Parent by Refusing to Follow a Court Order?
The short answer is no; a parent cannot lawfully stop the child from seeing the other parent in violation of a court order.
Court orders are not suggestions; they direct parents to comply with them.
A parent who refuses to comply with a child custody order and stops a child from seeing the other parent violates the court order. A parent who violates a child custody order may be held in contempt of court for such conduct.
Is it Ever Proper for A Parent to Stop a Child from Seeing the Other Parent?
Withholding a child from the other parent is commonly referred to as “gate-keeping.” Gate-keeping generally falls into two categories:
- Protective Gate-Keeping.
- Restrictive Gate-Keeping.
Protective Gate-Keeping: Are There Situations When a Parent Should Stop a Child From Seeing the Other Parent Despite a Court Order?
Parents who have reasonable concerns about the other parent may engage in protective gate-keeping. They stop a child from seeing the other parent but not because of nefarious reasons, they do so because of reasonable concerns arising out of the facts. The key is always the facts.
If there is child abuse or other conduct by the other parent that endangers the child’s health or safety, a parent may take lawful steps to prevent the visitation. However, absent extreme circumstances, a parent usually has the option of contacting the proper authorities including the police or child protective services. Also, if there is an immediate threat of harm to the child, a parent may seek emergency child custody relief.
Restrictive Gate-Keeping: When a Parent Unjustifiably Withholds a Child From the Other Parent
A restrictive gate-keeper is a parent who, without justification, prevents the child from seeing the other parent. The parent is usually scorned about the breakup and seeks his or her revenge by using a child as leverage to hurt the other parent. This type of restrictive parent may also make false allegations of abuse or neglect against the other parent.
Restrictive gate-keepers are not necessarily terrible parents. The issue is that despite their parenting skills, they have little respect for the other parent’s role in the child’s life. They rarely co-parent without unreasonable conditions that satisfy their need for control.
Such parents often engage in disparagement of the other parent or the other parent’s family or friends to the child. This kind of behavior often snowballs into parental alienation.
For this reason, when a restrictive parent stops the child from seeing the other parent, court action often becomes necessary. If the restricted parent does not take immediate court action, that parent may be empowering the restrictive parent to continue.
A parent without a court order cannot technically stop a child from seeing the other parent. However, he or she may still have concerns such as the following:
- Substance abuse,
- Lack of anger management, or
- Lack of parenting skills.
It is important to remember that in California, there is no perfect parent standard.
What if the mother believes the father does not have her level of parenting skill? However, the father is otherwise capable of caring for the child without endangering the child. Is the mother’s basis to stop the child from seeing the father unjustified? Yes, it is.
Justification, however, still does not give a parent a legal basis to stop a child from seeing the other parent. The concerned parent should immediately seek appropriate child custody and visitation orders and bring his or her concerns to the court’s attention.
Likewise, the parent whose parenting time is unreasonably prevented or limited should not stand idly by and do nothing either. If he or she does nothing, that parent may unwittingly establish a status quo. The status quo may make it more difficult for the court to change the visitation schedule moving forward.
That parent should also seek immediate child custody and visitation orders.
Setting forth the restrictive gate-keeper’s misconduct may justify asking the court for a modification of visitation or even sole custody. Until the restrictive parent shows a willingness to co-parent and put the best interests of the child first, this may be the only reasonable option.
Even if the court does not grant the modification request, the restricted parent will have at least set a precedent for it. Therefore, if custody is revisited later, the court can be reminded that this was the concern the restricted parent shared earlier, and it remains a concern.
California’s family law procedures are complex and trying to navigate them without help of a California family lawyer can be frustrating. If you have questions about family law procedures, contact our accomplished and dedicated family law, divorce, and child custody lawyers by calling (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or contact us online for a free consultation with our experienced family law attorney, Colleen Sparks, who can guide you through the court process in a prompt and clear manner.
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