Is My Co-Parent Allowed to Power Off My Child's Phone?

Posted by Erin Birt | Dec 20, 2023 | 0 Comments

Is My Co-Parent Allowed to Power Off My Child's Phone? Understanding Boundaries in Unsupervised Visits

Family law and custody arrangements can be complex, especially when dealing with challenging situations such as parental substance abuse and volatile behavior. Recently our Mediator & Attorney, Erin Birt, was asked, "I have sole custody, and the father has visitation on Saturdays only, can he power off our daughter's cell phone during visitation? He previously had supervised visits and is an alcoholic". In this blog, we explore the boundaries and considerations surrounding unsupervised visits, communication tools like cell phones, and the rights of both parents.

The Custody Arrangement

A custody arrangement involving alternating Saturdays with no overnights, with one parent having sole custody and the authority to make final decisions for a child, is one option when a parent abuses substances and is navigating away from supervised visits. This arrangement provides structure and stability, allowing your daughter to spend time with her father while ensuring her well-being.

Supervised Visits Due to Alcohol Use

It's noteworthy that the father had supervised visits likely due to his issues with alcohol. This suggests that a court or custody professional recognized potential risks and took measures to ensure a safe environment during visitation. However, it's crucial to always assess any changes in circumstances that might lead to the modification of the visitation arrangement to ensure the safety of your child. Our firm can provide tips for monitoring this situation.

Communication Tools: The Cell Phone

To enhance communication and address concerns about a child's safety, one parent often provides the child with a cell phone to use during visits. This proactive measure allows the child to contact a parent if the child feels unsafe or uncomfortable with the other parent. A phone does not guarantee safety, but it is a tool that can help a child before a scary situation escalates. Even with a phone for a child, a parent must continue to monitor recent developments.  A word of caution, a phone can also escalate issues quickly and result in co-parenting arguments or parent child arguments, however, if you have a valid safety concern, a phone is a good tool to help monitor a child's safety.

The Dilemma: Turning off the Phone

In the question posed, the daughter's father has taken the drastic step of turning off her phone during visits. Some parents will claim that a lack of access to the passcode as the reason. This action raises questions about the boundaries surrounding communication tools and the rights of both parents in such situations. Conversations or guidelines need to be in place about who other than the child is permitted access to the phone. 

Understanding the Boundaries

In many custody agreements, parents are encouraged to facilitate communication between the child and the noncustodial parent. However, intentionally cutting off communication may be considered a violation of the spirit of co-parenting. It's essential to differentiate between the right to control the child's access to technology and the responsibility to ensure their well-being. 

Legal Perspectives

Family law varies across jurisdictions, and the interpretation of custody agreements can differ. Consulting with a family law attorney who is familiar with your local laws can provide valuable insights into the specific rights and responsibilities of both parents. They can help you understand if the father's action of turning off the phone is legally acceptable or if it violates the terms of the custody arrangement. In Illinois, it will depend on the best interests of the child, whether there is serious endangerment to a child to not have a phone, and whether there are past court orders with electronic device guidelines and permissions. 

Conclusion

Navigating family law and custody arrangements requires a delicate balance between protecting a child's well-being and respecting the rights of both parents. Understanding the boundaries surrounding communication tools and seeking legal advice when needed can help ensure a smoother co-parenting journey. Ultimately, the focus should remain on providing a safe and stable environment for your daughter to thrive.  Contact us to develop guidelines and an electronic device agreement. 

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About the Author

Erin Birt

Since 2003, Erin N. Birt, J.D., CADC has focused her practice on parenting time, divorce, mediation, and substance abuse issues. Ms. Birt's unique background in both family law and addictions counseling help her clients successfully navigate the complex issues of coparenting and divorce. Ms. Birt also devotes her time to presenting at continuing education seminars for attorneys, mediators, and counselors.

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Birt Family Law is the family centered law and mediation practice with a focus on restorative divorce; offering creative and supportive legal and mediation solutions with one goal: keeping the separating family out of court and working together towards a peaceful resolution.

We offer multiple options to achieve this goal including mediation, coaching, co-parenting strategies, and restorative divorce services. 

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