Mediating Conflict,
Embracing Peace

Child custody – are your children safe?

I had a dream that made me think about child custody issues. I went to pick up the kids and they were not where they were supposed to be. My family members and I searched frantically through the night driving to different places where we thought they might be.

It was very early in the morning when we found them sleeping at a bus stop. They had gotten on a bus, did not where to get off and had ridden the bus to its last stop. Why a bus driver failed to question what a 7 and 5 year old were doing on the bus by themselves is beyond me. But it is a dream and I rolled with it. The exact details of the dream escape me, but what I remember most is the overwhelming feeling of relief knowing my children were safe and unhurt.

This made me think about when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of parenting, parents overriding concern is the safety of their children. But when parents are involved in a heated child custody dispute, parents forget this, and the parent focuses on himself or herself. “I’m hurt and angry and because of it, you won’t see you children.” Or a parent may feel the other’s time should be restricted because he or she does not parent as well. “He lets the kids stay late. He doesn’t feed them properly like how I do. She’s not involved in their extracurricular activities. She dresses him in clothes that are too small.”

In any custody dispute, it is easy to forget the overriding concern is not whether the kids may eat junk food, stay up late, or be bored at the other parent’s home. But, in spite of that, are the children safe with the other parent? That needs to be the central question parents ask themselves. That no matter how upset, hurt, and angry that person may be at the other parent, and forget that a person’s parenting skill may not equal the other’s-are the children safe.

This post does not deal with safety concerns that arise when drug, alcohol, or abuse factors are present. Those factors pose a significant risk of harm to the children and restrictions are needed.

—This made me think about one of my cases where a commissioner imposed professionally supervised visits because the court believed the parent posed a danger or a risk of harm to the children. The court ordered the parent to do certain things, which the parent complied with. At the hearing, the court had to decide if the professionally supervised visits should remain or should that restriction be changed in light of father’s compliance with the court’s order. In making its decision the court asked me, “What is the risk of harm to the children?” Basically if the court removed the requirement of professionally supervised visits, what danger would the children be in. I though it interesting the court asked me that question because at the first hearing, I had not even asked for professionally supervised visits. The court ordered that. I thought it fine if the parent’s visits went back to the old status quo, which was that parent’s mother or father supervised the visits…which is what the court went back to.