When there are minor children at issue in a divorce in Missouri, at the conclusion of the divorce, the Court will order a Parenting Plan outlining who has legal and physical custody and/or visitation with the children. Included in this Plan is an order that each parent should refrain from talking about the other parent in a disparaging way in front of the children. The Court does this for many reasons, but primarily to avoid having the children be put in the middle of any animosity of the parents. When one parent badmouths the other so much that the children turn against that other parent, it can be considered “alienation of affection”.
So what do you do if you are caught in a situation like this: where your ex-spouse is speaking ill of you in front of the kids and putting the kids in the middle? Each situation is different and should be assessed by an attorney, but I have advised clients in the past that when the other parent puts the kids in the middle, it is a violation of the Parenting Plan. Further, because that Plan is an order of the court, the other parent’s actions can be considered contemptuous. I have worked with clients to file Motions for Contempt for such behavior. I have also filed Motions to Modify asking the court to modify the Parenting Plan and award sole legal custody to the parent who has been disparaged. It is a lengthy process, can be expensive and the outcome is never guaranteed, but I have found that being faced with the Court looking over the other parent’s shoulder, and having that other parent understand that you will not take their abusive and contemptuous behavior, is sometimes enough to make them step back, think about their actions, and refrain from putting the kids in the middle in the future.