Q. My wife and I broke up recently. She moved out, took the kids with her and has kept them away for two months. I had to move in with my parents but there’s plenty of room for the kids. I can’t imagine not seeing my kids on Christmas, even for a couple of hours. Is this legal? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. The only reason I can think of that justifies a parent keeping a child away is a concern for the child’s safety. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Determining safety is subjective. Some feel if a child doesn’t have a room of their own, the child is not safe. Some feel if a child must sleep on the couch, a child is not safe. Some feel a child of 13 should not be left alone, while others think it’s fine. So, if you arbitrarily keep a child away, if brought to court, it could certainly backfire. A good determiner is if there’s a history with Child Protective Services. If there’s no history and mom’s just using the kids as ammunition to get back at you—shame on her. It will never hurt you as much as it hurts your kids.
You asked if keeping the kids away is legal. If there’s no court ordered parenting plan in place, there’s nothing for the police to enforce. That’s why I always suggest parents get a court order. You can deviate from any order at any time if you both agree—and if you don’t agree, an order settles the argument.
No matter how angry your ex is, for their children’s sake, it’s time for both of you to stand back and look for a solution. (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #10, “Look for the Compromise.”) With Christmas just days away, that can be anything from a couple of hours to sip hot chocolate at their favorite restaurant to an overnight at the grandparents’ house since you’re staying there. Make a suggestion, complete with how you will transport the kids and where they will be—remove any questions and don’t play tit for tat. Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rules 5 and 6, “Don’t be spiteful,” and “Don’t hold grudges” were included because of situations like this.
At this point, if mom won’t talk to you, Emergency Custody Orders may be appropriate. Either consult an attorney or most court houses have self-help clinics that will walk you through the process. If the fighting continues and a judge must make the decision as to who has the most time with the children, the final determiner is often the parent who is most likely to share gets the kids. If what you are saying is true, mom better change her tune fast or she could end up with limited time with the children.
Finally, The Holidays and breaking up are both jammed packed with emotion. If you’re reeling, you can only imagine what your children are going through. Diffuse your negative interaction with mom not by name calling or threats, but by always bringing it back to putting the children first. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.