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When parenting time is used for leverage or control

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Parents who have gone through a divorce often don't see eye to eye on a number of issues. That's often a contributor to why the couple got a divorce in the first place, and even though they're still required to communicate with each other as parents of their shared children, they may not communicate productively or well. In extreme cases, they might even use one of the most important commodities they share-time with their children-to try to wrest control, get leverage, or coerce the other into some sort of action.

One common example of this involves child support. If the custodial parent is owed child support, she may reason that she shouldn't have to hand her children off to the non-custodial parent until he pays up-even if the parenting schedule in their decree spells out that it's his weekend. She might reason that being denied parenting time will motivate him to pay child support, and that he'll only be "deserving" of that access once he's caught up.

The law doesn't work that way, though, of course. Certainly, parents who owe child support are expected to comply with those obligations, and in Texas, the Office of the Attorney General has a great number of employees tasked with enforcing those obligations. But parenting time is set up to provide children as much consistency as possible in a divorce situation, and parents who try to use withholding of parenting time to punish the other parent invariably punish the children.

A parent owed child support should notify the OAG of the situation; they'll then initiate contact with the parent in question. They may even reach out to the parent's employer; a number of these cases will resolve with wage garnishment set up to ensure that a parent's child support obligations are met.

It can also be used by a parent who is seeking to negotiate some concession for the other parent-perhaps for a week during the summer coveted by both parents. The decree will typically spell out defaults pertaining to how parenting time is negotiated, and modifications to that schedule should be written out and signed by both parties, or, at the very least, on an email thread in which both parties are clearly in agreement. Parents can get into heated arguments when one determines that the other's silence about a proposed schedule change is equal to concurrence. (Of course, a parent withholding a response to a request can be another tool used in seeking control.)

The ultimate, guiding question in all of this-as with so many questions pertaining to family time-is, "What is in the best interest of the children?" Many of these situations involve a parent experiencing raw, human emotions, who might have ample reason to be frustrated or angry with the other parent. But these situations ultimately involve two parents who aren't getting along . . . and the children that, despite the existing conflict, love them both.

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