You may find that ongoing access between your children and their father can be challenging.
Some of this is because the kids may be anxious about seeing their father or worried about the impact on you if they have a good time with their dad.
But most of it is because the abuser knows that the best way to get to you is through the children.
- He may come early to pick them up and harass you about not having them ready.
- He may come late and leave you and the children waiting and wondering if he is going to show up.
- He may call and threaten not to return them, then bring them back late. He may bring them back early and interrupt whatever you were doing.
- He may not show up for several weeks in a row, ignore your communications about it, and then suddenly appear at a time not set out in the order demanding to have time with his children.
A clearly written, detailed access order can help reduce these kinds of access challenges, but it cannot eliminate them if your ex-partner is determined to let you know that he is still in charge of the family.
Whenever you can, be flexible with your ex-partner while maintaining firm boundaries. If he wants to change the usual schedule for a special event in his family and doing so will not interfere with an important activity that you have planned with the children, agree. The kids will appreciate it, and you may want the same consideration some time in the future.
You may have concerns about what happens when the children are with their father, and these concerns are more difficult to manage. You may be worried about the safety and well-being of your children when they are on access visits. At times, you may want to deny access because of these concerns.
This is a tricky area, because courts do not take it lightly when either parent attempts or appears to attempt to interfere in the relationship between the children and the other parent or to act contrary to a court order.
If you are the primary or custodial parent, the law requires you to support and encourage access by your former parent, even if the children do not want to go or you have some concerns about what goes on during the visits. It also requires both you and your ex-partner to comply with the court order.
Concerns about children’s safety
If you believe your children are being harmed or are at risk of being harmed, especially physically or sexually, you should alert the authorities (police/CAS) and take steps to ensure the safety of your children. You should also speak to your lawyer as soon as possible about other steps you can take. For example, your concerns may justify a change being made to the access order on an urgent basis.
If your ex-partner has threatened in a believable way that he will not return the children, you may be able to deny access. Again, you should seek legal advice immediately in these circumstances.
When kids won’t go
If your kids don’t want to go, this can place you in a difficult situation. There is no specific age written in the law at which children can make their own decisions about whether or not to visit their father. However, judges will rarely force adolescent and older children to engage in visits they are opposed to.
If you withhold or appear to withhold access from your ex-partner without a supporting court order, you may be accused of attempting to alienate your children from him, which can make the issue of access even more complicated. You can face contempt of court charges, fines and jail time if you act contrary to a court order or, in an extreme case, custody could be transferred to your ex-partner.
Child support and access are not linked. Even if your ex-partner has not paid his court-ordered child support payments, you cannot stop him from seeing the children as set out in the custody and access order.