You’re at work, running errands, at a friends house and you come home to find the unthinkable – your spouse has left with the kids. You may have heard the story of David Goldman, who was recently reunited with his 9-year old son in Brazil, or of Christopher Savoie, who is currently in jail in Japan for attempting to retrieve his son and daughter after his wife left with them. Obviously, these are very high profile, international abductions. However, this is a situation that occurs all too often near the end of a marriage. Typically, it does not involve one parent leaving the country, but it often can involve a parent leaving the state.
The other parent is left without the ability to visit with their children – and sometimes doesn’t even know where they have gone. To add further frustration to the situation, this scenario frequently involves allegations of domestic violence. If you are the parent who has been left alone, without the ability to see your children, this can be an especially painful and difficult time. Your feelings may range from hurt and sadness to anger and rage over what your spouse has done. Your initial “knee-jerk” reaction may be to want to get back at the other spouse by calling the police, or filing an emergency petition with the Court.
In these difficult situations, most parents forget that the anxiety and pain they are feeling is not born by them alone. Often the children are even more traumatized by being separated from not only their other parent, but also the comfort of their own home, school, friends, etc. If the parent that leaves takes them farther away, possibly out of state, these feelings of fear can be even more intense for the children.
Many Courts recognize how difficult this type of experience can be for children, and both parents must be educated about the long term consequences of such an abduction. The court, in making a custody decision, will want to do what is in the best interest of the child, and will consider “all relevant factors”, including the fact that one parent has removed the child from the jurisdiction of the court.
Generally, the parent who wishes to have custody of the children has an affirmative obligation to encourage and nurture a relationship between the children and the alternate residential parent. Courts may be leery to award custody to a parent that they feel will fail to encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent, or who will unreasonably restrict access of the children to the other parent. This is because the parent restricting access is not acting in the children’s best interests and is not following the law.
What does this mean for the parent who has been left alone without their children? It will be important to get the courts involved early. There is not a lot of time to wait and attempt to negotiate with your spouse’s attorney (if they have one), because your spouse is already gone, and so are the children.
We advocate negotiation and mediation to work out a parenting schedule that will not only work for both parents, but will consider the best interests of the children. Although a divorce can be a difficult and painful process, we strive to make it as simple and conflict-free as possible. By keeping the process amicable, everyone wins.