Warring parents are one of the most difficult challenges faced by child care providers. Each parent wants what they feel is best for their child, but they don’t always agree. This can make for a very challenging situation for the provider. But, the worst part can come in at child pick-up time or when a parent is requesting information about the child. Who, exactly, is authorized to pick up the child or receive information?
The first thing is to make sure that you have the most current custody order on file and an understanding with each parent that they will provide you with any updates to the custody order. We have each parent initial and date the custody order to demonstrate that they are in agreement that this is the most recent order. If there is no custody order in effect, we have the parents write out the custody and share of information arrangements to which they have both agreed and have both initial and date it.
Then make sure that the staff member who is handling the custody order knows what it means and what to do with it. We have a Custody Order Policy to help our staff know what to do and a Custody Order Summary Form to synthesize the details of the custody order and make the arrangements clear for all staff members.
Custody Orders may include:
- Shared or Joint Custody: Each parent has some court ordered visitation with the child. In this situation, each parent retains equal rights to the access of information and decision-making regarding the child.
- Sole or Exclusive Custody: The non-custodial parent might or might not have some visitation arrangement. However, regardless of visitation, one parent is given the sole or exclusive right to access information and make decisions regarding the child.
- No Contact Order: One or both parents may be ordered by the court to have no contact with the child. While it may seem unfair, keep in mind that there is always a compelling reason why a parent’s parental rights have been modified by a court. It is critical that all staff know these orders are in place, what the order states, who is allowed to pick up the child, who is ordered no contact, etc.
And, finally, even though it seems obvious, make sure that the custody order is for the correct child. We had a parent provide us a custody order to gain access to a child’s file, but the order was for the other two children of hers that we had in care. It was an oversight on her part (I think), but fortunately, our staff caught the error and realized that they could not release the information.