Involving the Police in Custody and Visitation
At some point, the issues you face may be less a question for a divorce and custody attorney and more a question for a child psychologist. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if everything between you and your child’s father is highly contentious, there are very few things an attorney, a guardian ad litem, or a judge can do to minimize the damage that you’re doing to your coparenting relationship and, more importantly, to your child.
Involving the police in custody and visitation
Fairly frequently I hear about parents who call the police in a frenzied attempt to enforce a custody and visitation agreement or order that, in their opinion, their child’s other parent isn’t following.
What can the police do?
Usually, very little. Though they can enforce a judge’s order (you’d be hard pressed to find a police officer anywhere that’ll help you enforce a signed agreement; for enforcement purposes, you need it to be a final order entered by a judge), they have a hard time actually doing it. Why? Well, because to know what the judge ordered, they’d have to (1) read your order, and (2) understand it.
It’s very, very difficult for a police officer to do those things. Custody orders can often be lengthy, so it is hard for police officer to really have the time to sit down and read one. Besides that, they’re often written in legalese, and can be confusing to the non-legal reader. Not to impugn their intelligence, but it is also difficult for them to read and understand when they’re in the middle of a contentious, dramatic domestic dispute. (How well can you read a complicated text for comprehension when loud noises and craziness are surrounding you?)
The impact of involving the police on your children
Before you call the police to help enforce your custody order, ask yourself – is the benefit great enough to warrant the risk of harm to my child?
In my experience, the answer is almost always no. Especially if you’re quibbling over a pick up or drop off time, it’s probably not worth it.
Are there times when it might be reasonable to involve the police?
Sure. If your child is in danger, you may have no choice but to call the police. After all, that’s what they’re there for. Remember, the question to you should be: is the benefit great enough to warrant the risk of harm to my child? In a case where your child’s physical safety is in jeopardy, the benefit is high. Though there’s still risk (it is always potentially damaging to have armed police officers show up accosting the child’s parent in front of him or her) of damage to the child, if physical safety is really at stake, you have to take calculated risks.
What if my child’s father calls the police on me?
If your child’s father calls the police on you, do the best you can to remove your child from the situation. You can send the child outside, or to play somewhere else, while you have a calm discussion with the police officers. You can’t help the choices your child’s father makes, but you can do your best to behave in a way that places your child’s best interests at the forefront. If your child’s father has done this, especially if there’s no reason for it, you’re probably incredibly frustrated – which is understandable – but don’t let your anger or frustration show in front of your child.
What if we don’t have a custody order in place?
If you don’t have a custody order in place, probably what you should do first is to file for custody, visitation, and child support with the juvenile court. Without a court order, there’s nothing the police can do anyway.
There’s no such thing as parental kidnapping unless it’s in violation of a court order. Like I mentioned before, an agreement isn’t enough either – but it’s easy enough to take the additional step (an attorney can help you with this) to get your agreement incorporated as an order of the court. If you’ve got a signed agreement, the judge will incorporate it. It’s one more step, but it’s an easy one.
If you don’t have an agreement in place, you can try to negotiate one – or just go ahead and file for custody, visitation, and child support in juvenile court. Either way, but given the contentious nature of your relationship (which I am assuming, because you’re here, reading this particular article), you may be better off not wasting your time trying to reach an agreement, at least at this stage.
How can I diffuse the tension and improve our coparenting relationship?
You’ve hit the nail on the head! This is definitely the question you SHOULD be asking at this point. Instead of asking whether you should call the police or what to do if he calls the police, you should be asking yourself how to set up your coparenting relationship so that no one feels the need to call the police anymore.
I know it’s a hard thing to do, especially where your children are concerned. I’m a fellow mama bear, and I totally get the way you’re feeling, especially as things spiral out of control. But the best way to spend your effort at this point is to focus on how to stop the behavior, and encourage your child’s father to focus on promoting your child’s best interests first.
Probably the first step would be to get a custody order or agreement in place, if you don’t have one already. Having something in writing can go a long way towards diffusing the tension, especially since then you’ll both have a better idea of what to expect. After all, I find that the majority of fighting comes from a feeling of desperation and not knowing when/if you’ll get to see the child, on what schedule, and whether you’ll be able to be the kind of parent you want to be.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to start treating him the way you’d like to be treated. I know, lame advice, right? But, in my experience, this is really what turns contested custody cases into ones where the parents (rather than the judge) call the shots where their child is concerned.
I know he’s a jerk. And he doesn’t always put the child first. But that shouldn’t impact your decisions, which should ALWAYS place your child at the forefront. So, do to him what you wish he’d do to you. Be responsive, and kind in your communications. Send him pictures. Offer FaceTime chats. Be open minded about his requests, and offer reasonable accommodation where modifications of the schedule are concerned. Include him in decisions, where possible, and make sure he has as much information as you can manage regarding the child’s extracurricular activities, doctor’s appointments, and school events.
I know. It’s not easy. And maybe he can get this information himself. But you bear 50% of the responsibility here for setting up a culture that thinks of the child first, and yourselves second. To the extent that you can control it, you’ll be well served to do so.
It may not be an immediate transformation. He may continue to be jerky for awhile. (Because, probably, he’s suspicious about why you’re suddenly being nice, and it may take awhile for you to prove to him that you’re not doing it to screw him over in some way.) But it’s hard to be a total jerk to someone who is nothing but nice to you. In my experience, a video of the child talking about daddy, and a simple, “She loves you so much!” can go a long way towards softening even the hardest heart.
Involving the police is rarely the answer. For more information about custody cases, request a copy of our custody book or our custody free reports on a wide range of topics, including what to do when there’s physical or sexual abuse, how custody cases work, how to work with a Guardian ad litem, and more. To schedule a one on one consultation with one of our licensed and experienced custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.