I recently spent several hours at the courthouse because my client's spouse wanted to control my client's summer vacation with the children. While there may have been mental health issues active in this case, it was not the first time that a parent had tried to prevent or control the other parent's summer vacation plans with the children. As in most cases, it was a futile exercise, wasting time and money for both parties. My client was unhappy about being in court and the other party was very unhappy about the outcome. It all could have been avoided. Courts in Texas will rarely get involved in parental vacation plans, unless there is a real danger to the children. If a parent has plans to expose the children to a very dangerous situation, a court might act. If a parent just doesn't like the other parent's plans or doesn't like others who will be around the children, most courts won't get involved. Judges can recognize when someone is being controlling or acting as a bully, and they generally won't support such behavior. Generalized fears that a parent may be somewhat irresponsible or that a child will be homesick or that a child won't have a good time are not sufficient to warrant restricting a parent's vacation plans. Complaining that a parent or others will “bad mouth” the other parent will not be sufficient to force a change in plans. There are less drastic ways to deal with all those scenarios. There are several possible things that could be going on when this issue arises:
- There could be a legitimate concern, with a factual basis, related to past events. The problem (from that parent's perspective) is that the expected harm must be certain and significant, and that's hard to prove.
- The child may be telling both parents different things and may have her own agenda in creating conflict.
- The child may be telling both parents different things and may just be trying to cope with pressure put on the child by one or both parents.
- One parent may really be afraid that the child will have a good time with the other parent and wants to prevent that.
- A parent may be selfishly wanting to spend the time with the child and therefore tries to create whatever barriers he can to prevent the child from being away.
- One parent may be trying to alienate the child from the other parent or the other parent's family or friends, so she tries to interfere with visits.
- One or both parents could be mentally ill or very immature.
- A parent may just want to continue past fights with the other parent and is using this as a tool.
What can you do in such a situation?
- Talk to the other parent. Try to reason with him or her. Be willing to provide lots of information, if that will help.
- Encourage the other parent to go to a counselor to discuss the problem in advance.
- Consider going to a mediator. Some therapists are also trained mediators and that can be a helpful combination.
- In Tarrant County, Texas, you can make an appointment with the Access Facilitator for your court. A trained social worker can often help you and the other parent resolve the matter without attorneys or court, and at no cost!
- Your last resort should be hiring attorneys. Most experienced attorneys can pretty quickly tell you what the outcome will be if you go to court, and most of the time, the answer is that the judge will not restrict vacation plans, unless there is a serious, immediate danger.
Good luck, and may common sense be with you!