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What Is Considered Parental Interference?

Little Girl with Paper Family in Hands.

Parental interference occurs when one parent deprives the other parent of visitation or custody time. The offending parent may hide children, refuse to return them, or remove them from the state without permission. Illinois courts have the authority to penalize this type of interference through fees, misdemeanor charges, jail time, driver’s license suspensions, and other methods.

Little Girl with Paper Family in Hands.

What Is Parental Interference?

Illinois criminal law identifies parental interference as, “unlawful visitation or parenting time interference.” It is also called custody interference. However, custodial interference can be broader and include parents repeatedly contacting their children during off weeks or constantly trying to turn children against the other parent by telling lies.

Co-parents often struggle to balance the stresses and demands of raising their children separately, but the courts do expect them to find that balance. When one parent cannot, parental interference may result. It can be conscious or subconscious, but either way, the offending parent may face penalties.

Problems with your co-parent do not always rise to the standard of criminal interference, but your child custody lawyer can clarify. Your co-parent likely is interfering with your time if he or she intentionally does things such as bringing the children to your house hours late that result in less custodial or visitation time for you.

Most Common Excuses for Avoiding Visitation

There are legitimate reasons for parents to avoid visitation, such as when one parent shows up drunk and driving a car. However, parents who are interfering with visitation as a matter of course frequently turn to these common excuses:

  • The child is too busy/has activities/is at a friend’s house.
  • The child does not want to go.
  • The child is sick.
  • The parent says he or she cannot pay for travel to the other parent’s location or that the child missed a flight.
  • The parent lies that the other parent’s home or environment is unsafe.

These reasons typically are not legitimate when the aim is to disrupt visitation time. Take the rationale of the child not wanting to spend time with the other parent, for example. Absent actual safety concerns, parents have a genuine, legitimate responsibility to ensure their children spend time with the other parent per court orders.

Counseling can help children who refuse to see the other parent. Otherwise, parental alienation could be at play, which could make getting counseling challenging.

When parents claim their children are too busy to see the other parent, it is called dance card booking. Parents register their kids for many activities in hopes of curtailing the time they spend with the other parent. This tactic may not lead to criminal charges, but could result in a contempt citation.

When plane trips are involved, interference tactics might include one parent giving the other wrong flight information and then claiming they showed up late or never showed up. Similarly, parents may never book a ticket in the first place and tell their co-parent that traffic on the way to the airport caused the child to miss a flight.

Finances, travel woes, and activities can be good reasons to change visitation schedules, to be sure. However, the correct way to go about making adjustments is through clear communication between the parties or their lawyers and not last-minute “surprises.”

How to Identify Parental Interference

Sometimes, interference is clear. Parents can abduct their children, for example.

This type of interference may sound extreme and rare. However, in 2020, almost 5% of missing children cases reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children were family abductions. That same year, family abduction cases accounted for 63% of Amber Alerts.

Parental interference can be subtle, too. Parents purposefully booking their children for certain activities on certain days. Parents not telling the other parent about these events might be interference, too.

Indirect interference is possible as well. It includes parental actions such as refusing to give children letters or gifts the other parent sent and not letting kids communicate with the other parent by text or a messaging app.

Your child custody lawyer can help clarify if interference or another type of custodial alienation is occurring. Frequently canceling visitation points to parental interference. Making false accusations, limiting communication, and asking inappropriate questions are also critical issues to communicate to your lawyer.

Relocating with kids falls under the umbrella of parent interference in some situations. Notably, if parents attempt to secretly move with their children when the other parent’s permission is required, that likely is interference. Parents often must file motions to relocate with their children and have courts agree to the move despite the other parent’s objections.

These situations can get tricky, for instance, when parents want to relocate with their children due to the other parent’s ongoing interference. The parents may think that moving without notice will reduce the interference. In reality, it could result in less custodial or visitation time for them if the other parent pursues a case. In other words, interference can breed interference.

How Can Parental Interference Affect Children?

Interference has many possible negative consequences for children. It can cause anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues, for example. It can damage children’s relationships with both parents. Rebuilding trust and healthy relationships is rarely easy.

Unless the child is in danger, experts recommend that both parents get significant time with their children if it is what the parents want. That is generally in the children’s best interests.

What Can Your Attorney Do About Parental Interference?

Attorneys have many options when it comes to parental interference. If you are the one accused of being the offending parent, your attorney could file an emergency motion if your child is in danger when visiting the other parent. You may have sought to withhold visitation for valid reasons relating to your child’s safety, with the other parent not agreeing with your reasons. If the other parent is infringing on your time, your attorney could:

  • Advise you on your interactions with the parent and collecting evidence
  • Help you establish whether the interference is criminal
  • Contact the other parent’s lawyer with a warning
  • File court motions and represent you in court

Fortunately, Illinois prioritizes interference cases now. Family courts often hear such cases in days or weeks instead of months.

Because interference can breed interference, it is critical for responding parents to keep their actions aboveboard. For example, if you want to keep your child away from an unreliable other parent due to concerns about the parent’s drug addiction and always returning the children late, certain approaches could get you accused of interference. Talking with a lawyer ensures you handle matters correctly and do not hurt your case. It should be heard expeditiously in emergencies.

What Are the Remedies for Parental Interference?

Courts may hold offending parents in civil contempt and could order jail time. Other outcomes for one or both parents could include revising the visitation or custody order, parenting classes, cash bonds or fines, reimbursement for attorneys’ fees, childcare costs, and other expenses, and driver’s license suspensions. State police may be notified about one parent’s history of interference to minimize possible future incidents.

What Is Custodial Interference?

Custodial interference can be direct and indirect. Parental interference is one type, and others include parental alienation and refusal to co-parent. When parental interference is present, other types of custody interference often are too.

Refusing to co-parent can occur when one parent ignores the other parent’s input and makes decisions in which both legally should have a say. Limiting reasonable communication is another method of custodial interference. Parents asking their children to spy on the co-parent is a form of custodial interference, too.

Parental alienation can occur with one parent wrongly framing the other parent as dangerous, making false reports, telling children the other parent does not love them, and putting kids in the middle of custody or child support issues.

It can also occur through direct interference tactics such as telling the other co-parent the wrong flight schedule on purpose, and then telling the child, “[Parent] can’t pick you up from the airport anymore, so you are staying here with me.”

Why Do Parental and Custodial Interference Occur?

The interference can be for reasons relating to the child’s safety. Many times, whether safety risks are involved or not, the offending parent genuinely thinks he or she is doing the right thing.

Parents may be recovering from a tumultuous divorce or custody battle. They may have their own unresolved issues stemming from long ago and struggle to understand what is in their children’s best interests. Anxiety, depression, addictions, and mental illness may result in interference.

Of course, interference can happen for nefarious reasons. Parents may want to punish the other parent. Jealousy and resentment can cause interference.

A lack of empathy, trust, or respect is at the root of some interference cases. One parent does not trust the other to effectively parent or make good decisions.

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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