It’s only Wednesday but the Superior Court has already had a tough week in terms of parental insanity. On Tuesday we had T.P v. G.P., a protection from abuse case from Delaware County. There is plenty to unpack here but the central focus of the battle seems to have been a 16 year old’s cellphone. The incident itself took place in April 2022 and a temporary order severely limiting father’s contact with S.P. was entered.  Then there are continuances to June and another continuance by agreement that amends the temporary order but sets a trial for December, eight months after the incident occurred.

This comes out of an incident that occurred at dinner while the 16 year old and a sibling were at father’s home. When an argument ensued and the child said she didn’t want to be there, Father took away the 16 year old’s cellphone and tablet. Somehow, the child got to a phone and called her mother to say she felt threatened. The sibling seems to have confirmed that things were volatile. Then, with the child using a camera on her phone the mother professes that she saw father and paternal grandmother corner the child to get her phone. The child jumped on a bed to elude them but the altercation became physical. Mother asked her boyfriend to call police while she drove to father’s house. Meanwhile, the 16 year old fled to a neighbor’s home.

Then we have Talley v. Talley, a Montgomery County custody case decided on September 19 as well. The Superior Court describes this as a 15 year odyssey of continuing custody litigation. The phone also plays a role in this case. Father claims that the child is constantly on the phone with Mother during his custodial time. Meanwhile part of the conflict between father and daughter is that she does not promptly call or text him when he reaches out to the child while the kid is with mom.

In reading these cases, one sees a common theme. The cellular phone as provocateur. Psychologists tell us that whenever children transition from one custodial parent to another there is commonly lots of stress because parents still blame each other for their failed relationship. The child has to navigate this and, in more serious cases, the navigation is done in parking lots of McDonald’s or police stations in an effort to keep the peace. The psychological community also tells us that its not unusual for a kid to stress about changing households for an hour or more before and after the change takes place. Then they adjust.

Cellphones have changed that. Now the “other parent” (the hated or hateful one) is instantly available at the push of 10 buttons. In the Talley case it seems that there were challenges getting the 15 year old to do homework. When a parent confronts the child about this failing, the child resorts to making the issue into a phone conference. Now two parents who don’t like each other and don’t have much respect for the other’s parenting skills have been invited into the bullring. The child is sitting in dad’s house. Dad starts into a discipline issue he wants addressed. Kid calls mom and tells her how unfair dad is. Can you guess what percentage of mom’s respond with: “Honey that’s something you will have to work out with your father?” And, the same thing happens when the teen is at dad’s and mom lowers the disciplinary boom.

When these incidents occur, the instant reactions of the parent who has custody are:

  1. I have lost control of my kid in my own house.
  2. I have been rendered powerless.
  3. This is all because someone I no longer like is now telling me what to do in my house with my kid who needs to (a) do her homework (b) take out the trash or (c) do as I ask.

Some parents get control of these instinctive responses and correct course. But if you read the facts in Talley  and those in T.P. v. G.P. you can see the power of the phone as a provocation. It’s as if the person you separated from still has a key to your house and can now offer first hand second opinions on how you should parent at the very moment were you were not inviting input. Unfortunately, this heightens animosity and conflict which separate households were created to minimize.

A child perceiving real danger should be told to leave the house (as S.P. did) or dial 9-1-1. Getting the other parent involved is not likely to produce a good outcome for either parents or children. Worse, it tends to produce a culture of “payback” where you will find yourself punished by the other parent for intervening where your input was neither sought nor wanted.

The cases are:

T.P. v. G.P.  320 EDA 2023

Talley v. Talley 267 EDA 2023