The Conflict Between Parents and Court

Parenting is about process. It doesn’t help a child to tell him the result you want without telling him how to get there. Telling him to “hit the ball” in Little League or to “get an A on the test” without teaching him how to swing a bat or how to study, makes your child vulnerable to failure.

The family court system is not designed to make parenting decisions and most people would agree that a judge should not do so. Yet when parents divorce and cannot agree on a parenting issue they often seek support from the court. One parent might file a motion asking the judge to change the parenting plan, for example, seeking the ten year old boy’s return to that parent’s home on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. instead of Sunday 8:00 p.m. To a judge, magistrate or referee, this may seem like a miniscule difference and not worthy of judicial intervention. The court personnel, overworked and underpaid, may subconsciously feel that the parents are being childish themselves. After all, in the scheme of things, three hours every other week won’t make a big difference in a child’s life.

And yet, there may be numerous reasons that justify the change. Perhaps the child has difficulty unwinding at the end of a busy weekend. Perhaps the child sleeps better in his own bed. Perhaps the child doesn’t get his homework done during the weekend and needs more time on Sunday night to complete it. Perhaps the child is uncomfortable at his other parent’s home and often returns over stimulated or moderately depressed. Whatever the reason the parent files the motion, it is usually about parenting. It is about providing the child with whatever that parent believes the child needs.

The other parent resists because he or she either disagrees with the parenting choices of the ex-spouse, or because he believes he is providing the child with what is needed. Regardless, it is a parenting choice about process; the end-goal being to raise a child to adulthood.

It is extremely difficult to distill all the reasons for a proposed change and then express it in a way that court personnel can hear. Beyond the initial resistance a parent might meet from the overworked public servant, that person has neither the time nor the desire to delve into the nuances of parenting. The process of Sunday night parenting and the specific needs of each unique child, are too much for court personnel to digest in the few minutes they meet with you. Nor do they really want to be in the role of judging which parenting decision is better.

The family court system is designed to reach outcomes; specifically, how much time a child will spend with each parent. Some parenting matters are taken into account, but they are viewed with broad strokes. Is a parent physically abusive? Then that parent has less time. But if a parent thinks it is okay for a ten year old boy to be with him until 8:00 on Sunday night, that is a decision about the parenting processes that the court is unable or unwilling to make.

The court system may farm out these issues to mediators and parent coordinators, but even they resist immersing themselves into the details of parenting. What then, is a divorced parent to do? There are options, but most involve re-evaluating your own parenting process and not relying on the court system to support your parenting choice.

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