When does visitation abuse by the other parent become enough to warrant a change in custody?

child-father-looking-sunset-10327109Visitation abuse is when the other parent attempts to alienate the child from the other parent and restrict, limit  and/or interfere with vistiation. Visitation abuse alone has been held insufficient to warrant a change of custody. Schultz v. Schultz, 38 Ill.App.3d 678, 347 N.E.2d 749 (3d Dist. 1976); Ehr v. Ehr, 77 Ill.App.3d 540, 396 N.E.2d 87, 33 Ill.Dec. 11 (2d Dist. 1979); Eggemeyer v. Eggemeyer, 86 Ill.App.2d 224, 229 N.E.2d 144 (2d Dist. 1967).

However, coupled with other factors, visitation abuse may form the basis of a custody modification. Maroney v. Maroney, 109 Ill.App.2d 162, 249 N.E.2d 871 (3d Dist. 1969) (poor care of child plus repeated visitation abuse); Mullins v. Mullins, 142 Ill.App.3d 57, 490 N.E.2d 1375, 96 Ill.Dec. 170 (1st Dist. 1986) (scheme to destroy father-child relationship).

However, in 1991, visitation abuse rose to a level requiring change of custody. In In re Marriage of Kramer, 211 Ill.App.3d 401, 570 N.E.2d 422, 155 Ill.Dec. 909 (1st Dist. 1991), the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the actions of the mother were so hostile to the father’s relationship with the child that a change of custody was required. The mother interfered with the father’s relationship with the child by denying the father telephone access to the child, despite a court order, by using the answering machine to take the father’s calls and rarely returning or allowing the child to return the calls, calling the child while he was visiting the father and telling him not to worry because he could come home soon, enrolling the child in school using her maiden name as the boy’s surname, refusing to give the father any information about the school or the school any information about the father, telling the child that the divorce meant that the father was no longer the child’s father and that her new husband was the child’s daddy, denigrating the father to the child, engaging in behavior calculated to create tension and to make the child feel that visiting the father put him in a dangerous situation, giving the child small gifts to be opened each day while he visited the father, canceling visitation repeatedly without giving a reason and denying makeup visits, and canceling visitation by claiming that the child was ill and refusing to comply with a court order providing that the father, a physician, be allowed to examine the child whenever illness was used as an excuse for canceling visitation.

The appellate court looked at the language in the judgment for dissolution of marriage providing that the parents would “use their best efforts to foster the respect, love and affection of the child towards each parent.” 570 N.E.2d at 424. The court held that the mother had failed to follow that provision and that her actions rose to a level that required that custody be transferred to the father. When the mother complained that the visitation problems had existed before the entry of the judgment for dissolution of marriage and that, therefore, the father had not been able to prove a change of circumstances that occurred after the entry of the judgment, the court remarked that there was no need to show a change of circumstances when the mother so comprehensively had violated the general “best efforts to foster respect” language set forth in the judgment. 570 N.E.2d at 428.


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