Nothing seems to anger courts more than when one parent excludes the other parent from the children’s lives. Sometimes the exclusion consists of not allowing the children to spend time with the other parent. Often, however, one parent will denigrate the other parent in front of the children so that the children understand that they are not supposed to like the other parent. If mom tells the children that daddy is bad enough times, the children will understand that they are going to anger or disappoint their mother if they want to see or spend time with their father. This is known as alienation of affection for the other parent and it is usually detrimental to the children.
When one parent excludes the other parent from the children’s lives, that parent is showing the court that he or she cannot place the children’s interest above his or her own interest (or agenda). The parent places her anger at the other parent above the needs of the children. The solution to alienation of affection is for the children to spend more time with the alienated parent. Sometimes that means changing custody of the children.
The Return of the Missing Parent:
Sometimes one parent leaves the family and has little contact with the children for a prolonged period, then asks the court to award him or her liberal access to the children. For example, when a father leaves the family for another woman and does not see or call his children for many months (or even years) the issue is whether to allow the missing parent to have visitation (or access) with the children. Generally, the court will allow -- and even encourage -- the father’s reconciliation with the children because it is best for the children to have both parents in their lives.
Frequently in situations where one parent has been gone for many years, the other parent will have difficulty understanding how a reconciliation benefits the child. Why should we have to deal with this person when we have been doing just fine without him? However, children often form their self-images based on how their parents view them. Where one parent is missing the child often asks “why doesn’t my father love me?” Or, “why am I not good enough for my mother to want to see me?” The custodial parent must place the child’s needs above his or her anger with the missing parent.
If the children have not seen their father in years and he is a virtual stranger to them, the court will often set up therapy sessions between the children and their father as well as an increasing schedule of access. At first, the children might see their father during sessions with a therapist and then spend an afternoon together each weekend progressing to spending the day together before allowing overnight visits. This accomplishes two things: (1) it allows the children to get comfortable with their father and (2) the gradually increasing access schedule tests whether the father is serious about establishing a relationship with his children and is willing to go to the therapy sessions and spend some time with his children each weekend. If he does not follow the access schedule then the access does not increase.