Child watching parents fighting - concept for Parenting time interference

Child custody and parenting time can be among the most contentious issues when parents divorce or decide to live separately. It may take a great deal of negotiating, and sometimes litigating, to establish a parenting time schedule. If you have been accustomed to living with your children full-time, you look forward to the time when they are at home with you, and miss them when they are with the other parent.

Parenting plans only work when both parents are committed to them, and recognize that it is truly in their child’s best interest to have a strong relationship with both parents. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for one parent to take measures to purposely prevent the other parent from having their scheduled time with the children. When this happens on a regular basis, it is called parenting time interference. When parenting time interference occurs over an extended period, it can cause permanent damage to the relationship between a parent and a child.

What Does Parenting Time Interference Look Like?

Parenting time interference can be obvious and overt, such as one parent simply refusing to make the child available for the other parent’s scheduled parenting time. This type of interference is often referred to as “direct interference.” However, there are also more subtle ways to disrupt parenting time that nonetheless have the effect of interfering with a parent-child relationship.

Interference can take many forms, including:

  • Outright refusal to make the child available to spend scheduled time with the other parent
  • Dropping the child off late for scheduled parenting time
  • Picking the child up from school or daycare when it is the other parent’s turn to do so
  • Moving the child to another state, or hundreds of miles away within the same state, without court permission
  • Denying parenting time because the other parent is behind on child support
  • Scheduling play dates, sleepovers, and other highly-anticipated activities during the other parent’s scheduled time
  • Failing to inform the other parent of the child’s events that the other parent has a right to attend
  • Coaching the child to refuse parenting time with the other parent
  • Speaking negatively about the other parent to the child so that the child will not want to have parenting time with them
  • Preventing the child from speaking with the other parent on the phone, especially for scheduled calls
  • Withholding the other parent’s gifts, letters, cards, or other communications from the child

Remember that parenting time interference involves a pattern of behavior. If the other parent drops your child off ten minutes late for parenting time once in a while, that’s not interference. If they are regularly dropping the child off hours late or failing to do so altogether, it might be. Consistent, unchecked parenting time interference can also lead to parental alienation.

What Can I Do About Parenting Time Interference?

As a co-parent, it’s important to be flexible; sometimes the other parent will be running late, or need to swap days with the child—and sometimes you will need this flexibility, too. However, being too flexible for too long can lead to the other parent continuing to push boundaries and creating a “new normal” in which you and your child spend less and less time together. If you don’t take steps to protect your custody and parenting time rights in a timely fashion, you may find it more difficult to do so later.

The first step is to make sure that your court order for child custody and parenting time is clear about what time each parent spends with the child. It is very difficult to enforce a right that is not clearly defined. If your order or arrangement is unclear, such as one for “reasonable” parenting time, speak with your attorney about getting a more specific schedule.

If you have a specific schedule, and your co-parent is consistently violating it, it is important to thoroughly document not only those violations but your attempts to correct them, such as emails, texts, letters and calls. This will provide you and your child custody attorney with a foundation for requesting court action. In our office, we frequently recommend the use of co-parenting apps to help document communications between parents.

Minnesota courts are willing to modify custody and parenting time orders if a parent shows that there has been a “willful and persistent denial or interference with parenting time.” Therefore, you need to be prepared to present evidence not only of a pattern of behavior by the other parent, but that that behavior was willful. In addition to the possibility of changing the custody order, you may be able to get the other parent to pay your attorney fees associated with the parenting time interference issue. The court may also order the other parent to pay a fine of up to $500.

In the most severe cases, such as those involving parental kidnapping, the other parent may be criminally charged with a felony for deprivation of parental or custodial rights. However, your primary goal isn’t punishing the other parent; it’s making sure that you and your child have the time you need to keep your relationship strong. If you suspect that the other parent is engaging in parenting time interference, you should contact your attorney right away to take steps to preserve your parenting time.

To learn more about parenting time interference, or custody and parenting time in Minnesota in general, contact Mundahl Law at 763-575-7930 to schedule a consultation.