In a Texas divorce or child custody case one of the most difficult aspects of the entire process involves parents like yourself being made to decide with their Co-parent how rights and duties associated with their children will be divided in the case. While many parents focus primarily on the time that they can spend with their children a better analysis regarding this subject would incorporate conservatorships and possession into the equation. Conservatorships probably isn’t a word that you are overly familiar with regarding child custody and divorce cases. We hear a lot about custody and possession but relatively little about conservatorship.

A word on conservatorships in family law cases 

Being the conservator for another person simply means that you can make decisions on that person’s behalf and also hold responsibilities to do what is in that person’s best interest. As a parent, you are a conservator of your child even if you’ve never thought about yourself in those terms. Once you enter into a family law case the rights and duties associated with conservatorships of a child in Texas become extremely important. Rather than being a conservator in a theoretical sense, you will now be a conservator in a very legal sense. In the conservatorships rights that you hold about your child and those which your parent hold about your child will be spelled out in black and white on a piece of paper. 

Although we as parents are emotional and sentimental when it comes to our time with our kids your ability to make decisions for your children is equally as important in my opinion. A normal reaction for a parent during a family law case would be to concern Dover how you will be able to spend time with your kids after a family law case. You should also focus your attention on your ability to have a say in the important decisions made on behalf of your child by you and your Co-parent. This is the essence of conservatorship.

How will your relationship with your Co-parent impact the proceedings of a divorce or child custody case? 

You and your Co-parent may not be on speaking terms at the beginning of your divorce or child custody case. While you may be doing this out of an abundance of caution to ensure that nasty words or even violence are not exchanged between the two of you this can be a bad precedent to set for yourselves and your family at the outset of an already contentious family law case. You need to be able to objectively examine your mindset as you began your family law case about your Co-parent. Not only does having a negative relationship with that person impact your ability to complete a family law case but it stands to harm your child both in the near and long term future. 

If your Co-parent is acting maliciously or negatively towards you then this may be a serious problem for you to face. In the world of family law, this type of behavior is called malicious parent syndrome. When your Co-parent does everything he or she can to harm you and your relationship with your child and isn’t concerned about using your child to do so, this can be an extremely tenuous situation to find yourself in. 

What can you keep an eye out for when trying to identify malicious parent syndrome?

Alienation is a hallmark of malicious parent syndrome. If your Co-parent is doing their best to alienate your children from you then you may be facing a person who is afflicted with malicious parent syndrome. Their objective is to do everything they can to convince your children 2 resist any feelings they have towards you and to instead push you away from a physical and emotional standpoint. Alienation can occur in a few different ways depending on your circumstances in the ages of your children. 

On a simple level, your Co-parent may tell lies to your children about you or use their words to paint you in the most unflattering light possible. The most worrisome part about all of this is how this will shape your child’s view of you in the long term. While children can have good memories they do not possess the experience or worldliness to be able to contextualize the things that they observe in their day-to-day lives. They may observe things in their daily lives but rely upon you and your Co-parent to be able to guide them as far as how to place into context those observations. 

It would be very simple for your Co-parent to simply misconstrue or allow your children to take out of context something you did or said previously. From there, your Co-parent could add onto or embellish something that occurred previously to further cement a point. this is a dangerous position for you to find yourself in because now that you and your Co-parent reside in different households there is no way for you to effectively police what is being said about you while you are away from your children. 

As your family law case begins to unfold your Co-parent may even try to use the courts to harm your relationship with your children. For example, your spouse may make allegations of abuse or neglect against you about themselves or your children. Even if there is no evidence to substantiate their claim simply making the allegation has the effect of putting you on the defensive. You will likely act differently around him or her as a result and the case will almost certainly be made known to your children. Even if they know that you truly never abused or neglected them the mere thought may begin to enter their minds and impact the way that they view you. 

Wrongful denials of visitation 

one of the hallmarks of living in a divided household is sharing Visitation time with your Co-parent. You will find that transitioning into a life where you are reliant upon your Co-parent to make sure that your children are ready and able to visit and spend time with you can be a precarious position to be put in. There needs to be a great deal of trust and understanding between you and your Co-parent to ensure that no problems occur regularly when it comes to Visitation exchanges. 

Unfortunately, when your Co-parent has malicious parent syndrome, you can expect that problems regarding Visitation exchanges will be the norm. For instance, you may find yourself having to wait for extended periods at the beginning of each Visitation session you have for your children to be made ready to come to your home. This can be extremely frustrating especially if you find yourself having to wait in your vehicle outside of your Co-parent’s house and cannot approach the door or see what is going on. You can lose a great deal of time over a year when your children are 30 minutes late for every Visitation session you have. 

Another concern that exists for parents in your position would be that your Co-parent could completely deny you Visitation but no basis to do so. This is referred to as wrongful denial of visitation. there are legitimate reasons why your Co-parent would deny you the opportunity to see your children even if you have court-ordered time with them. Legitimate suspicions of abuse, illness of the child, or other extraordinary circumstances could lead to a time or experience where you may be denied Visitation or vice versa. 

However, parents who are afflicted with malicious parents syndrome invent circumstances to deny the other parent Visitation opportunities. For instance, many parents make allegations that a lack of child support payments influenced their decision to withhold Visitation from an ex-spouse or Co-parent. Bear in mind that this is not a valid excuse for the failure to make your children available for Visitation at the preset time or location. You cannot withhold possession of children for the failure to pay child support and you cannot refuse to pay child support if you are having Visitation withheld from you. 

Another similar way that your Co-parent may be engaging and alienating behavior is by not keeping you informed of events that surround the life of your child. Many times you may be left in the dark regarding a parent-teacher conference or another meeting regarding your child’s education. Having this happen once could cause you to assume that it was an honest mistake. However, when it occurs more than once we can begin to see a trend and assume that it is malicious or alienating behavior. 

This situation becomes even more obtrusive when you can see in your final decree of divorce is from your child custody case that both parents must share information about extracurricular activities, parent-teacher conferences, or doctors appointments with the other parent. I’ve been exposed to a handful of circumstances where both parents will play these sort of mean spirited and alienating games with one another to the point where they’re having to threaten one another with going to court multiple times each year. Not only is this troublesome for the long term relationship of you with your Co-parent but it can strain your relationship with your child, as well. 

Not telling the truth to your children 

parents who are afflicted with malicious parent syndrome will go out of their way to make you look bad. Some of these examples that we are going over today can be perpetrated with an ex-spouse or Co-parent simply not doing the right thing. In other cases, your Co-parent may seek to act in purposely malicious ways such as in spreading rumors are telling your children lies about you. Remember that children can recall information quite well but have little context or experience to be able to understand fully what your actions say about you. 

On top of that, a well placed or positioned lie about you can harm your ability to build or maintain a relationship with your children. Even if your children were to find out about a lie you can’t unring that Bell of it first having been told. What’s more, you have no direct control over what your Co-parent says to your children when your kids are at their home. So much of your co-parenting relationship depends upon a certain level of trust to be held between you and your Co-parent. When you cannot trust how he or she is going to talk about you in front of the kids when you are not there then you have no basis for a relationship with that person. 

You may find yourself in a situation where the insult is being added onto injury where not only is Visitation being denied to you but that your Co-parent has lied to your children about why they cannot spend time with you. I have heard of parents telling their children that the other parent doesn’t want to spend time with them or that tier she has other things to do rather than spend time with the kids. All the while, that parent was the one to deny Visitation or two outright make up stories about the children being sick so that Visitation sessions would not occur. 

Pay attention to how your children act around you 

those are just some of the examples of how your Co-parent maybe engaging in malicious parent syndrome. It is unrealistic to think that he or she will be honest with you about how they are communicating with your children about you so you need to be able to look closely at the behavior of your children to determine whether or not alienating behavior is occurring at the other parents home. 

An obvious change in your child’s demeanor with you should be a telltale sign that alienation is occurring. If your child acts withdrawn or hesitates to engage with you then this may be an indication that he or she is being fed lies about you behind your back. Your instinct would probably be to confront your child and ask him or her what is happening and you can do this to an extent that you feel comfortable. 

On the other hand, it may be more effective for you to directly address your Co-parent in a non-aggressive fashion. Simply pointing out to him or her what is happening and then letting him or she know that you are not going to tolerate this kind of behavior can go a long way towards increasing transparency. Of course, there is no way to guarantee that he or she will stop this behavior but sometimes just letting the person know directly that you can see what is going on is enough for him or her to take a step back.

But this is already occurring during a child custody divorce case you should of course address it directly with your attorney. He or she can begin to have conversations with your opposing counsel or may schedule a hearing to bring the issue before a judge. You almost certainly will have court orders in place, whether they are final or temporary, that bar your Co-parent from engaging in much of the kind of behavior we have discussed today. Going to court and having these issues addressed by a judge can be a tremendous deterrence against future actions that could escalate. 

If you are experiencing issues like this after a divorce or child custody case they have the option to file either a modification or an enforcement case against him or her seeking to either change your final orders from the court or two enforced terms that prohibit alienating or malicious behavior in the 1st place. If this becomes habitual for your Co-parent then he or she runs the risk of losing parental rights and certainly losing time with the children. 

Your best bet is to keep track of these malicious actions and to organize any missed Visitation opportunities for future enforcement proceedings. Simply having a gut feeling about malicious actions or alienating behavior is not enough to move forward in terms of a modification or enforcement case. Do your best to maintain your relationship with your child, never reciprocate in malicious behavior and keep track of any alienating information to provide to your attorney if need be. 

Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

if you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by a divorce or child custody case. Thank you for your time and consideration and we hope you will join us again on our blog tomorrow.