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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR CAMP BECOMES A CUSTODY BATTLEGROUND
Alan Cooper, Esquire
January 16, 2006
Each year we receive more calls from camp directors who find themselves in the middle of a custody dispute between parents. These situations can be harmful to your camping atmosphere, as well as to the child involved, and can place substantial demands on your time. I served as a custody mediator and court-appointed custody dispute hearing officer for many years before joining our organization as general counsel and claims director. In order to minimize the negative effect a custody battle can have upon your camp, I suggest the following:
- Have a definitive, written policy in place before camp begins, and communicate it clearly to the parents. For example, your policy may provide that unless there is a specific court order to the contrary, you will allow each parent the same access to the child regardless of who has custody or enrolled him or who is paying the tuition. Or you may limit access solely to the parent who signs the enrollment form. It is not as important what your policy is as that you have one that you stick to and remain consistent in applying.
- Ask parents for a written list of who may pick up the child or visit on campus, and let him or her know that unless the person is on the list, there can be no contact.
- If a dispute erupts on campus (for example, the father shows up demanding his child), do not take sides. Today’s bum of a spouse often becomes tomorrow’s love of one’s life. Remain neutral at all times, and do what you can to separate the battling parents if both appear. Allow them access to a phone to call their respective lawyers. Good attorneys usually have control of their clients and can often work things out. If they can’t and the parents persist, inform them that you will be contacting your local law enforcement agency and they will arrive soon, and to please be patient until they arrive.
- Do not help one parent over the other, for example, by grabbing the child and placing her in a car while the other parent is restrained. This is a recipe for trouble, and will guarantee a subpoena down the road.
- If in doubt, call the police. If they are reluctant to get involved, explain you are a summer camp with many children around, and you fear the confrontation may escalate into possible violence.
- Remember, your loyalty is to your camp and to the children, not to one parent over another. The best thing you can do is keep things calm until professional help can arrive. And the best way to avoid a confrontation in the first instance to have your policy in place and in written form so that the “angry parent” realizes you are merely enforcing a neutral policy as opposed to picking sides.
Alan Cooper is on the AMSkier Camp Alert Network Team and is available to AMSkier clients on a 24/7 basis. He has represented numerous camps throughout the years and is uniquely familiar with the myriad of legal issues faced by camps today.