By: Stephen J. Plog
In custody cases, visitation, or “parenting time,” comes in many forms. This can include specific orders regarding telephonic or other electronic contact between a parent and child, such as Face Time or Skype. In the modification of orders, or otherwise.
In this Part 2, my goal is to give people some insights and advice on how to protect themselves and children related to telephone visitation, regardless of which side of the conflict they are on.
Before getting into some tips, I would like to clear up a misconception some people seem to have regarding cell phones, kids, and custody courts. As we are all aware, every child seems to want a cell phone as a necessary life support unit starting around 7 or 8 years old. They often believe it’s a right to have a phone, which, of course must include texting and data. Aside from being wonderful toys, cell phones can be great tools for communication and can provide parents and kids with that assurance of knowing there is instantaneous access in the event of an emergency.
1. Though a useful tool, Colorado divorce courts do not look at cell phones for kids as a necessity. As such, we do not see judges ordering people to split the cost of their kids’ cell phones such as they would medical bills or educational bill. I just wanted to clear that up, as I often see the shocked looks on people’s faces when I indicate that, absent an agreement, a court is unlikely to order the splitting of cell phone bills. Now that that is cleared up, I will get back to the task at hand of providing some tips for navigating through court ordered telephone contact.
2. When there is a dispute over whether one parent is denying the other their time talking to the kids by phone it will be important for the parties to provide the court proof of what has gone on. If you are calling the kids and not getting through, or being accused of not letting the kids talk to the other parent, your concerns or arguments may be meaningless to a court and just “he said/she said,” unless you have proof. As such, I advise my custody clients to use cell phones. I recognize that landlines have become antiquated, but some people still have them. If you use a cell phone and save each month’s bill, you have a neatly preserved record showing when the other parent called the kids or your efforts to call the kids when they are with the other parent. This can come in handy in court when you are either bringing or defending against that motion related to phone contact.
3. Follow your court orders regarding telephone visitation. I cannot count how many times someone has called our office indicating the other party has filed a contempt of court proceeding related to phone calls. Until someone is embroiled in this aspect of a family law case, they don’t realize how seriously some judges will take these types of things. I have seen people threatened with jail, or have threatened jail, related to phone calls. I know this sounds harsh, but some courts take telephone contact just as seriously as the traditional face to face parenting time that occurs. Don’t let violations of court orders over an issue that seems so small change the court’s perception of you such that it could have an effect over bigger issues down the road.
4. Don’t overreact when a call or communication session is missed. I often see people become enraged when a phone call with their kids is missed here or there. We all want to speak with our children. However, from time to time, they might be playing, or at a movie, or doing homework, or might have just fallen asleep on the couch after dinner. If you miss a call to your kids don’t take it out on them. Let them be kids. Likewise, unless you have an ongoing pattern of the other parent denying your telephone time, it’s just not worth rushing off to court after one or two instances. Most judges will roll their eyes of a couple of minor transgressions. If the problem becomes a pattern, talk to your attorney about when it might make sense to take action. The first step may be a warning letter.
5. Be mindful of your kids’ ages from a developmental standpoint. I have talked with many divorce and custody clients over the years regarding the other parent forcing the kids to stay on the phone for extended amounts of time. Each kid is different. A teenager might be okay with talking for ten or fifteen minutes while a two or three-year-old might only want to talk for 30 seconds to say, “hi.” Telephone contact should be something pleasant for the children and is truly for them, not the parents.
6. Don’t hover or step into the call between the child and the other parent unless there is a true safety concern. Interfering with telephone contact is a common theme that gets raised in court and can just cause conflict the child gets exposed to. Courts abhor conflict in front of the kids. There is plenty of time to communicate adult issues without children present.
With hundreds of stories to tell, I could endlessly write on this subject. Perhaps one day. Keeping the few tips and examples I have cited in mind may make telephone visitation more manageable for all. If telephone visitation becomes problematic or unmanageable, or if you have other family law questions, call a Denver child custody attorney from our firm to assess your legal options.
Contact Plog & Stein, P.C. today to request a consultation.