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Can You Lose Custody for not Co-Parenting?

Unhappy little child hug leaving parent say goodbye

When one parent refuses to or is incapable of co-parenting with the other parent, it could be grounds for sole custody. Both parents are expected to communicate and cooperate with each other to make decisions for their child, without allowing their personal conflicts to get in the way. However, this doesn’t always happen, and many times, the noncustodial parent refuses to communicate with the custodial parent, which leaves many wondering, “can you lose custody for not co-parenting?”

Unhappy little child hug leaving parent say goodbye

What Is Sole Custody?

With joint custody, both parents are supposed to jointly make major decisions for their children. This generally includes decisions regarding their children’s education, health, and well-being. Both parents have full decision-making authority and responsibility for the children. The children might primarily live with one parent or spend almost equal amounts of time with each parent.

However, when one parent is granted sole custody, that parent maintains both physical and legal custody of the children. He or she is legally able to unilaterally make all the important decisions in his or her children’s lives. The noncustodial parent will usually maintain the right to have parenting time. He or she may also retain the right to receive information pertaining to the children’s education, health, and welfare.

Communication Is Key in Co-Parenting

The fitness of both parents does not always mean that joint custody is appropriate in all cases. When considering whether sole custody should take precedence over joint custody in a custody hearing, the Court will examine issues of communication between the parents, This could include any historical communication between the parents and whether it has been appropriate and civil.

The inability to communicate with one another in a civil manner is counterproductive to effective co-parenting, especially if the noncustodial parent refuses to communicate with the custodial parent. The Court will consider additional factors, such as:

  • Not ordering joint custody in an effort to improve communication
  • The age of the children involved
  • One parent professing that he or she is unable to communicate with the other
  • Whether the parents would be able to address unexpected situations that are not detailed in the custody order when they arise
  • Failure of one parent to abide by the parenting agreement without the permission of the court, including altering the visitation schedule

The Court may also flag parents as “high conflict” if they are unable to agree on anything or are angry and hostile to one another. Parents who cannot effectively co-parent may be referred to a parenting coordinator to resolve issues before resorting to awarding sole custody to one parent.

What You Should Know About Custodial Interference

Custodial interference occurs when one parent keeps a child away from a custodial parent and prevents him or her from having access to the child. This can occur when a noncustodial parent refuses to return the child to the custodial parent after visitation, or when a parent who shares joint custody refuses to allow the other parent to have his or her scheduled time with the child. In Illinois, this is more commonly called parenting time interference.

What Illinois Law Says about Custodial Interference

According to Illinois law, custodial and visitation interference is an unlawful act. The resulting punishment depends on the severity of the infraction, but the first offense typically brings a hefty fine. A second offense could lead to Class A misdemeanor charges, which could mean jail time.

Examples of Custodial Interference

Custodial and visitation interference in Illinois can take many forms. Sometimes it is blatant, with the parent refusing to bring the child to the other parent. Sometimes, it is subtle, with a parent scheduling an extracurricular activity during the other parent’s scheduled time without the other parent’s consent. A family law attorney can help parents determine if an action is a violation of Illinois parenting time law.

If a parent suspects the other parent is guilty of visitation interference, he or she must inform the parent, in writing, of the parenting agreement violation with the help of a family law attorney. If the parent does not change the behavior, further action can be taken to impose fines or bring criminal charges to the guilty party.

Is Custodial Interference Ever Valid?

Sometimes custodial or visitation interference is considered legal or valid, specifically if the parent breaks the visitation agreement to protect the child. For instance, if the parent is trying to protect the child from a parent who has been accused of violent behavior, he or she can break custody orders legally. If the parent fails to return the child because the roads are dangerous due to a winter storm, or some other unique event occurs that would make it unsafe to return the child, then the parent is not considered in violation of the agreement. A family law attorney can help parents determine if a violation took place.

Parental Alienation and Child Custody Cases

Parental alienation is a factor affecting many custody cases, but many parents are abusing these claims. There is much controversy surrounding parental alienation syndrome and how it can influence the outcome of a case.

What Is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

Parental alienation syndrome was initially defined in the 1980s by Dr. Richard Gardner. However, there is debate regarding whether this is a valid syndrome or if it can even be properly identified and diagnosed.

Parental alienation entails one parent attempting to drive their children away from the other parent, which is often done by interfering with communications between the alienated parent and the child. A parent might also coach his or her child to reject the other.

Determining the Validity of Parental Alienation Claims

While parental alienation does occur in many cases, some claims may be falsely made by one parent to counter abuse claims by the other. There is little data available regarding parental alienation and how it’s used in court, but research has shown that parental alienation frequently comes up following abuse allegations, significantly influencing judges’ decisions.

A recent three-year study has looked at thousands of cases involving parental responsibility, alienation, and abuse. The study looked at 238 cases and found that fathers accused of abuse, and who in turn accused mothers of alienation, won 72% of the time. They also won 69% of cases involving child abuse allegations, and 81% of cases involving child sexual abuse allegations.

Making Abuse Accusations a Priority

According to Joan Meier, the author of the aforementioned study and founder of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, abuse should be properly assessed before focusing on alienation. Oftentimes alienation winds up being the focus in cases when it may be used to deny abuse.

While claims of parental alienation are sometimes used to work around abuse accusations, some experts claim that the controversy regarding whether it is an actual syndrome is a distraction that interferes with the proper identification of alienation. Many argue that alienation is a type of emotional abuse, and that it should be treated with as much seriousness as other abuse accusations. However, the American Psychological Association and the DSM diagnosis guide for mental disorders do not recognize the syndrome.

When parental alienation is threatening the relationship between a parent and a child, or a parent has been wrongfully accused of parental alienation, a child custody lawyer may be able to help.

Uncontested divorce lawyer Denise Erlich is passionate about helping divorcing couples in the greater Chicagoland area transition to their new life as seamlessly as possible. Ms. Erlich patiently guides her clients through every step of the divorce process and provides clients with candid advice about their case and legal options, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

Years of Experience: More than 20 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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