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Language becomes an issue in child custody plan

When New Jersey parents work to decipher details of a parenting plan or visitation details, there are many individual decisions that must be worked out and discussed, sometimes with court intervention. One recent child custody situationin a southern state has garnered attention as the courts have had to take up the cause of what language a parent may use to speak with a child. The case involves a mom who has daily phone contact with her child and wishes to speak Spanish only to that child. 

Due to a mental disorder, the mother was restricted to supervised visits and phone contact daily. She only spoke Spanish, her native tongue, during these phone visits. A court initially ordered the exchanges in Spanish to cease due to the fact that the father did not understand the language. The mother is also fluent in English but preferred to talk to the girl in Spanish.

The Florida court order was overturned on appeal for a number of reasons. Reportedly, the father never sought to put a stop to the calls in Spanish. It was also noted that even if he had asked for no Spanish exchanges, no evidence supported the contention that Spanish-only calls would hurt the child or interfere with his ability to parent the child. The father argued that the language issue could lead to alienation of the child from the father, but the appeals court ruled there was no reason to restrict the mother from sharing the cultural language exchange.

Language barriers between families can be difficult to work through, especially when families separate and one parent is unable to understand or communicate in a language used by the other. While these kinds of issues may be somewhat rare in child custody cases, they may pose a unique situation that could require court intervention, as was the case in this situation. Any New Jersey parent wishing to protect his or her heritage or who feels passing on a language is important may want to investigate how shared or supervised custody could inhibit or promote that cultural exchange.

Source: The Washington Post, "Mother ordered not to talk in Spanish to child during her supervised visitation", Eugene Volokh, Jan. 26, 2015

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