Play Nice or Risk Losing Custody

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It’s an all too common post-divorce scene: A hurt, angry parent trash talks their ex to the kids. They criticize their former partner’s parenting. They deny or limit visits. They place blame. They ask children to choose sides in adult situations. Simply put, they work overtime at poisoning the children against the other parent.

Common or not, this practice of parental alienation has long-term damaging effects for children. While one parent is aiming at the other, it’s the children who get hit. And thanks to a recent decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, these destructive behaviors could result in a change in custody.

In a nutshell: Amarreh vs. Amarreh

In Minnesota, changing custody isn’t a simple task. Often, it requires one parent to demonstrate that the other parent is endangering—or causing substantial harm to—a child, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.

One non-custodial dad, Ismael Amarreh, recently set out to do just that.

In 2014, Ismael and his former partner, Hamida Amarreh, were awarded joint legal custody of their two children with parenting time as agreed by the parties. In the years that followed, Ismael alleged that the children’s mother systematically denied him time and access to the children, excluding him entirely from their lives. Ismael believed these behaviors amounted to child endangerment.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed.

Overruling the decision of a District Judge, the Court of Appeals ruled that substantial interference with a parent and child relationship—such as the behaviors of Hamida—does constitute child endangerment and could result in a change of custody.

What this means for parents engaging in alienating behaviors

It’s simple: you’re putting both your children’s welfare and your access to them at risk. No matter how hurt or angry you may be, your first priority must be your children’s welfare. This includes promoting a healthy relationship with the other parent. No exceptions. Children need two parents who are invested in making sure their needs are met and not using them as weapons in an emotional war.

Your ex may very well be a vile human being, but this is the person with whom you chose to have a child. Your children deserve the chance to make up their own minds about the other parent’s character. As hard as it may be, they need to have an honest experience of who that other parent is. And all of this fosters resilience, a necessary trait to navigate a successful adulthood.

In the meantime, allow your children the room to live and be children. If your 3-year old is throwing tantrums about going with the other parent, know that this is a natural stage of child development, not a commentary on the other parent’s fitness. Your job is not to be a gatekeeper. Your job is nurture and love your children on this new, oftentimes scary, journey

Because with this precedent set by the Court of Appeals, continuing to deny access or nurture toxic beliefs of the other parent presents a very real danger of legal repercussions or even losing your children.

What this means for parents who are being alienated

You’re not helpless. While you may not have control over your ex’s actions, you do have control over how you respond and how you process the situation with your children. Don’t give up. Don’t get angry. The most important thing you can do is stay involved and do your best to maintain a positive connection with your child.

If you’re starting to see trends toward alienating behaviors, find support as soon as possible. Reach out to a family law attorney, a therapist or a parenting coach familiar with parental alienation.

In conclusion

A strong, stable and loving relationship with both parents is critical to the emotional wellbeing of a child. Try to stop thinking of them as your ex and instead view them as your child’s parent. Let go of some of the anger and pain that’s unrelated to custody issues. Love your children enough to support a positive relationship with their other parent. It’s going to be hard. But your children are worth it.