Should I call the police?

A few days I had a call from a father of a family that I’ve been working with in divorce mediation. He wanted to know if he should call the police when his wife did not permit the children to come with him for his custodial time. He wanted to document the problem.

We decided to discuss the issue at the next mediation.  We also agreed to talk during the next session about whether or not the family might be better served with collaborative law. That way, they would have a mental health professional or child specialist to help with these disagreements.

But this father raises a question that I have heard this question many times before:  

When you are in mediation or negotiation in a family law matter, and you have a tentative agreement, what should you do when the other person violates it? Should you call the police? File something in court? What do you do when your friends tell you to call the police?


 I can’t provide legal advice, but I can try to answer the question more generally.

 If you call the police to ask them to enforce a custody agreement, a couple of things could happen.

  • Nothing.  If you have not signed the agreement with the court, most likely nothing will happen. The police can only enforce a valid court order. Even that issue will vary from state to state and county to county.
  • More custodial time.  Will calling the police get your children to you for your custodial time? Maybe so.  Most likely not.  Often the police will recommend that you contact your attorney to pursue a contempt of court.
  • Enforcement of the agreement.  But what if you can get “your way” and the police will enforce your order? What then? How will that improve your family’s situation?  Will a police officer go to the house where your children are located and help you get them? Pick them up? How might this impact your children? And once it happens, how will it impact the other party? How is it going to affect your relationship? How do you envision your child’s childhood? Is sending the police to help enforce an order the way you want your child to remember his or her childhood?

You may feel frustrated reading this blog post and finding few options to enforce your custodial time.  You had plans for you and your children, and now they are ruined. Maybe you want to retaliate. Maybe you think you won’t return the children to them. But again, please step back and ask what memories, what images do you want your children to have of their childhood? How can you get that?

I am not suggesting that you do nothing. I am suggesting that you resolve this in a long term and positive way that will provide your children with a good experience. How can you do that?

mediation is good
  • Try mediation. When parties reach an agreement on their own rather than having an order forced on them, they are more likely to comply with the agreement. Avoid litigation and work with collaborative law and mediation to reach your agreement.
  • During mediation work for win-win.   When you are in mediation, work hard to create a win-win agreement so that both of you will be mostly satisfied. If it is a workable agreement, both parties will be more likely to comply with the terms.
  • During mediation or 4-way meetings-speak up!  Do not agree to something you strongly oppose or that you think will adversely affect your children. If you have safety concerns for the children, put them on the table and work to have them addressed to everyone’s satisfaction.
  • During the mediation--consider other options!  If you have tried mediation but found the level of conflict to be too high to reach an agreement, try collaborative divorce.  You can engage  a conflict coach and a child specialist to help you work out the agreements. 
  • During the mediation--potential agreements are not final.   Remember that until everyone signs an agreement, there is no agreement. Normally during this period, the parties are trying out different arrangements to tweak it into something that will work long term. Don't rely on an informal agreement beyond that. It may need more work.
  • Signing the agreement.   When you are fully satisfied with a mediated agreement, sign it.  Be sure it includes your entire agreement and is something that will be good for your children.  You can always consult with an attorney before you sign anything so that you understand the agreement and the legal implications.
  •  When you can’t agree during the mediation process. Often, during mediation, the parents reach a place where they don’t agree.  Don’t freak out. It’s natural and normal, and your mediator will often be able to help you through the rough patches in developing your agreement.  If that does not work, you can try collaborative divorce.
  • After mediation (or reaching an agreement). Once you reach an agreement and sign it, whether it is in the 4-way meeting of collaborative law or mediation, you will be taking your agreement with you to be included in an order entered by the court. A petition or other document  will be filed with the court to begin the court case.  Many of my mediation and collaborative clients file their agreements with the petition, and the judge reviews it before a court proceeding.   II it meets the court’s standards, the agreement will be included in the order.

Bottom line:  Don’t give up!  Parenting is always hard work, and when you are parenting from two different households, it requires, even more, communication and understanding.  Most children need both of their parents, and the parents can use mediation or collaborative law to create the best arrangement for their unique family.