A Michigan divorce case has garnered a great deal of press in recent weeks. A family court judge, utterly frustrated by the children’s refusal to spend time with their father, ordered the children to spend their summer – and perhaps longer – in a juvenile detention center. The judge found the children in contempt of court for refusing to obey an order, and terminated the mother’s contact with the children for the summer. We are not privy to the details of the case, so we can’t make an informed comment on the judge’s remedy, other than to observe that it is extremely unusual and probably inappropriate, possibly counter-productive.
In our experience, it is sadly not unusual for one parent to work to alienate the children from the other parent, encouraging them subtly or openly to refuse to spend the court-ordered placement time with the other parent. It is not difficult to imagine the pain, frustration, and helplessness of the alienated parent. Of course, sometimes the children’s refusal has nothing to do with alienation by a parent, and everything to do with mistreatment or abuse in the other home. In this situation, however, the court must be presented with evidence of the mistreatment; otherwise there is no legal basis for a court to permit the children to refuse placement.