Court Finds Mother who Impeded Relationship Between Father and Children In Contempt

In a recent case before the South Carolina Court of Appeals, a mother who prevented her children from seeing their father was sanctioned by the court for disobeying the couple’s custody agreement.

The case, titled Noojin v. Noojin, centered around a custodial dispute between a couple who had divorced in 2011. The couple reached an agreement where the mother was awarded primary custody, and the father received frequent weekend overnight visits and weeknight dinners. The custody agreement the parents reached specifically noted that the children’s wishes wouldn’t be controlling as to whether they visited with their father, and that the parents would make an effort to foster an amicable relationship between the children and their other parent. The agreement also stated that neither would do anything that would estrange the children from their other parent, or “injure the children’s opinion” of their other parent. The agreement was incorporated into the court’s divorce order.

Soon after the couple’s divorce, however, the Court found that the mother stopped honoring the custodial agreement.  By 2013, the father returned to the family court to seek to have the custodial agreement enforced, and described to the court that he had been able to see his children only a fraction as often as their order had allowed. The court found the mother in contempt for failing to comply with the divorce order, and she was required to pay the father’s attorneys’ fees for returning to court. The mother appealed this decision, but the Court of Appeals agreed with the family court.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the mother’s actions had “demonstrated a willful violation of the divorce order.” The court determined that the mother had hindered her children’s relationship with their father by introducing to them the concept of “forced visitation.” The court explained how the mother had undermined the custodial order by instilling in the children that visitation was optional and that their father “forcing” them to visit with him would be harmful to them. Emails produced to the court showed that the mother repeatedly dodged efforts by the father to schedule dinners or weekend visits, and scolded the father for trying to insert himself into his children’s life. The court determined that she had not only failed to foster a relationship between her former husband and their children, but had instead encouraged her children not to visit with their father. The Court of Appeals agreed that this behavior constituted willful disobedience of the court’s divorce order, constituting contempt, and went against the state’s policy of ensuring that children of divorce do not become estranged from their non-custodial parent.

It is important to note, though, that the order involved in this case included provisions not only setting forth the father’s visitation schedule, but also requiring the parents to actively foster a positive relationship with the other parent and refrain from engaging in parental alienation-type behaviors.  There are numerous examples of other cases where parents do their best to comply with visitation orders and promote healthy relationships between their children and the other parent, but children still refuse to go on visitation.  That creates a difficult situation for custodial parents trying to strike a balance between following court orders while also protecting their children from the potential trauma that may be caused by following the court-ordered visitation schedule.  There are options to deal with this, though—the most beneficial one we tend to see is enrolling the children in counseling to help them work through whatever issues they’re facing that give them reluctance to visit with the non-custodial parent.  The non-custodial parent is often invited to participate in sessions as well, so the children can learn to work through their issues in a healthy manner, and the non-custodial parent can also participate and learn different ways to engage the children so they’re less resistant and more excited about visiting with that parent.

If you find yourself in a position where you’re having difficulty enforcing a court order regarding visitation or other provisions, or if you are a parent trying to strike a balance between the court order and your child’s needs, it would be valuable to seek legal counsel to ensure that your rights are upheld and your child’s needs are met.  Contact the compassionate and knowledgeable Spartanburg family law attorneys at The Cate Law Firm for a consultation on your case, at 864-585-4226.

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