“My spouse says terrible things about me to our children. I feel like he’s poisoning their minds against me more and more as our divorce case continues. Is there anything I can do to make him stop?”
Unfortunately, it is lost upon many divorcing parents that their children need to respect both of their parents during this difficult period and that negative comments by one parent about the other to the children undermines this need. If children start to believe the negative comments, they may feel as though their parents are not only divorcing each other but them as well.
In extreme cases, an aggressive approach may be warranted in order to minimize the children’s exposure to the parent who is making derogatory comments. This is particularly true if the children are highly disturbed by the comments and/or they are becoming alienated from you and do not wish to spend time with you.
Court intervention may be necessary to reduce or terminate your spouse’s parenting time or to ensure that access is supervised by a third party. However, court intervention should be a last resort and only in the extreme cases. To obtain a court order reducing or terminating parenting time or requiring third party supervision, adequate evidence must be adduced proving that your spouse is in fact saying horrible things about you. This is difficult because your spouse is not going to admit to it and he or she is likely well behaved in front of others. The only people who are likely witnesses to the behavior are the children, and we do not want to rely on them to provide evidence because they should never be put in the middle of their parents. They are not getting divorced; you are, so they should not be a part of the litigation.
In less extreme cases, your first course of action is to contact your lawyer and provide details with respect to what is being said about you. Your lawyer should correspond in writing to your spouse directly, if he/she is not represented, or to his/her counsel requesting that any negative comments cease immediately. This puts your spouse on notice that the behavior will not be tolerated and that you are aware of what is being said about you.
If your spouse is represented, his or her lawyer should give a stern warning about this type of behavior, as it is not tolerated by judges and lawyers alike.
Another option is to a engage professional third party assistance, such as a parenting coach or conciliation therapy, in order to help your spouse understand the adverse impact such comments have on the children and help modify his/her behavior. Your lawyers can aid in finding appropriate professionals to assist you and your spouse. However, both parties need to voluntarily participate in the therapy or coaching. If your spouse is not prepared to participate, he or she cannot be compelled to do so. In any event, third party professional assistance can be beneficial because it helps to understand and hopefully change the behavior. It may also help the parties deal with parenting, which can often be at the very root of the negative comments.
Rachael Mendicino is an associate at the family law firm of Rayson & Associates in Toronto. She is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Ontario Bar Association, and the Canadian Bar Association.