In Tennessee, child support is its own separate entity. In other words, no matter what kind of plan is put in place regarding primary residence and parenting time, a person ordered to pay child support must do so – period. But a case out of New York may be influential in how other States handle such an issue, by ruling that a parent who is being denied his right to time with his child should not have to pay child support.
Robert Coull filed a suit against Pamela Rottman, the mother of his child, saying that she was denying him access to his child. The New York Law Journal reports that “a forensic evaluator testified in Coull that Rottman’s interference with a regular schedule of visitation between Coull and his son has resulted in a ‘pattern of alienation.’” This resulted in Mr. Coull’s son refusing to spend time with his father. Mr. Coull then requested that his child support payments be suspended, as he was denied time with his child.
The original suit denied his claim, but the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed the order. The panel decided that “where the noncustodial parent establishes that his or her right of reasonable access to the child has been unjustifiably frustrated by the custodial parent, child support payments may be suspended,” citing a 2008 decision by the Appellate Division, Third Department in Matter of Crouse v. Crouse, 53 AD3d 750.
The panel ruled in favor of Mr. Coull because the previous judge “noted in his decision that Rottman stated many times that she would never allow Coull to see his child and would do ‘whatever it takes’ to keep the boy away from him.” They did not, however, force Mr. Coull’s son to spend time with his father as per the visitation agreement, because:
- The child was “vehemently opposed” to seeing his father
- The child had spent months in therapy but still held this belief
- The child was 13 years old at the beginning of this suit, which the judge decided was old enough to make a rational decision about what he wanted
The potential effects of this case
Everything about this situation is tragic. First, that a father would have his rights to his child denied by the mother of that child – and that his son himself has no desire to engage in a relationship – is heartbreaking. As a parent myself, I cannot even fathom what it would be like to be denied time with my kids. Parental alienation is a real thing, and all it does is cause hurt and harm to everyone involved. One can understand why a parent might be distrustful of a system that requires him or her to make child support payments to an ex-spouse or partner who is bent on refusing access to that child, and who has seemingly done everything in his or her power to turn the child against the other parent.
On the other hand, cases like these can influence others in a way that helps no one. While this particular incidence is extreme, that may not be the case for all families. It is too easy to envision a future where one parent might try to avoid paying child support because he or she has a problem with the other parent.
My real concern is this: child support is supposed to help your child. It should remain separate from custody and parenting time. Yes, it is frustrating to continue to give money to a person who claims he or she is using it for your children without ever seeing any proof of that use, but that is what divorce attorneys like me are for – to ensure that the law is upheld and that your rights as a parent are, too.
This case may be resolved in the eyes of the law, but the outcome benefits no one. I hope that Mr. Coull’s son can, with counseling, come to see the good in having a relationship with his father. I hope Mr. Coull will resume paying child support so that his son will be protected. I hope Ms. Rottman will consider seeking counseling herself, so she and Mr. Coull can find a way to begin the healing process that will ultimately benefit them all.
Child support and custody issues can be complicated; let me help you through the processes. If you find yourself in need of a Maryville family law attorney who can help, please contact me at Kevin W. shepherd, Attorney at Law, to schedule a consultation.