Divorce is hard. Emotionally you are confronted with all sorts of feelings of uncertainty, loss, and anger, but once you throw in the legal battle, it's hard to decide which one is worse — the battle of the emotions or the battle in court. When you're divorced, you can suddenly find yourself in many unpleasant situations — like your ex avoiding contact with you when they have the kids. But can your ex ignore your calls when they have the kids? Just the thought of it sends me into a spiraling rage sprinkled with severe anxiety and panic. Going through the legal process of divorce and custody can make you feel powerless, even when all you're trying to do is what's best for your babies, but here's what you need to know about your ex avoiding contact with you while they have the kids.
The short answer is yes — they can ignore your phone calls. The long answer is no. Let me explain. I checked in with Randall Kessler, a family law attorney and author of the book, Divorce: Protect Yourself, Your Children and Your Future, who explained that the answer to that question is actually more complicated than it seems. Kessler tells Romper in an email that unless the court order (divorce decree or custody order) specifies that your ex must take the calls, they probably aren't required to do so. That's the short answer. Unless you have it in writing and it's signed that your ex must take your phone calls while they have your kids, they're not in any legal violation of any court order. Frustrating, I know. But don't despair. Remember that long answer? If you really want your ex to start picking up your calls during their visitation, you may be able to make it so.
"Sometimes courts find that certain behavior, like this, violate the 'spirit and intent' of the order," Kessler says, and it could be a good time to call your lawyer. But before you do, make sure your calls to your ex are within reason. In an article on the Legal Zoom website, when it comes to calling during your ex's visitation, it advises parents to "avoid calling to check on [the child] or doing anything that might interfere with the visitation". But of course this is very general advice, and only your lawyer or someone who knows your case will be able to give you the best course of action to determine what is best for you and your kids.
If the problem persists and your ex deliberately continues to not allow you to communicate with them or your children while they are in your ex's care, Kessler says this can become a real problem. (As long as your phone calls are warranted of course.) After an ex refuses to accept these calls repeatedly, you may decide to stop letting the kids visit with your ex. Kessler notes that if your ex then tries to hold you in contempt for violating your court order, you might have a valid defense, like "I couldn’t let them visit because my ex would not accept my calls when I wanted to explain the children’s allergies/medications." This can turn into a big problem for your ex who's deciding not to play fair, but if the court doesn't agree that your phone calls are as important as you think they are, withholding visitation could be a problem for you, too.
When asked if he had any advice for moms who are dealing with this sort of dilemma, Kessler says, "The best practice is the 'ounce of prevention' and getting the court to order specifically that the parents cannot reasonably refuse calls from the other side when they have the children." He continues to share that there are many online resources for parents who need help mediating such issues, such as FAYR, which he says, "facilitates communications between separated parents." Kessler also mentions that there are experts who deal with issues like this called “cooperative parenting coordinators” and a quick Google search will land you on a host of options.
If you think you'd first like to try to handle the situation on your own, Kessler says that some other options would be to first talk to your ex politely and explain why you need to communicate with them or the children during visits and ask that they please answer your calls. If you're dealing with an ex who does not bring your kids home on time, it may not hurt to send a polite email asking for them to be punctual during the next visit. The more you document things in writing, the better it is for you. If you continue to run into problems with your ex during visitation, and you decide not to obey the court order, you need to make sure you have a very valid reason to do so and "hope the court agrees," Kessler says. Otherwise, you could potentially be facing very serious consequences. This is why it's best to consult with your lawyer first and make sure you've put your requests to your ex with your reasons in writing in the event you may need to defend your position.
If you're dealing with an ex who's abusive or otherwise terrible, and you fear for your children, know that you're not alone. If you can't afford a lawyer, there are resources dedicated to helping women in these kinds of situations. If you know it's best for your kids to stop visitation, you can attempt to "eliminate visitation or have it supervised," Kessler says. But just remember to try to never criticize the other parent, even if it's well deserved. Kessler points out that "children are part of each parent, so when you criticize a parent, you are criticizing the child." Divorce can be hard, but know that there's people on your side and resources you can turn to. Stay strong.