Divorce is never fun; add a contested custody issue, and you may find your stress and anxiety levels soaring. How can you calm your nerves and ensure the custody arrangement that you want? The attorneys at Richardson Bloom & Lines suggest the following 10 tips:
1. Be a cooperative co-parent. You must be able and willing to communicate with your co-parent. You need to show that you are doing your part to facilitate a good relationship between your children and their other parent and that you recognize the importance of the other parent in the children’s lives. You should do the following:
- Involve your co-parent in the children’s decisions: ask for his or her opinions on extra-curricular activities, healthcare, tutoring, etc.
- Talk to your co-parent about schedules and logistics.
- Inform your co-parent about your children’s events, i.e., games, recitals, parent-teacher conferences, etc.
- Answer your co-parent’s texts, e-mails, and telephone calls.
Courts understand that children do better post-divorce when their parents are willing to set aside their differences. You should continue to do this even if your co-parent does not reciprocate. You cannot control how the other side acts. All you can do is make certain that you are a good co-parent.
2. Always exercise your parenting time. If you are fighting for custody of your children, you need to exercise all of your time. Do not give the other side the opportunity to present evidence of you giving up time or of you being late for pick-ups or drop-offs. You want to show the court that you really do want the time with your children and that you are able to manage the time. (Of course, there will be instances when you have to work or be away from your children for another reason, and the court will understand that that occurs occasionally.)
3. Do not talk negatively about your child’s other parent around the child. Do not let your child hear your negative opinions about his or her other parent. The child should never be in the middle of the divorce or custody battle. He or she should be as sheltered as possible from the hostility and turmoil.
4. Do not use the children as an intermediary. You want the children to stay out of the proceedings are much as possible. Do not pass messages to the other parent through the children. Do not pass messages to the other parent through a babysitter or nanny. Do not put the child support check in your child’s backpack.
5. Do not alienate or play the role of a gatekeeper. Keeping your children away from their other parent and/or asking your child to keep secrets from the other parent will only hurt your case. The judge will be upset with any parent who tries to win his or her children’s affections by keeping the other parent out of the children’s lives. Encourage your children to have a positive relationship with their other parent.
6. Pay child support. Always pay the support that you are ordered to pay, whether temporary or permanent. You should never stop paying support, even if you believe that the other parent is alienating the children from you. The receiving parent should also not deny parenting time simply because he or she is not receiving the court ordered child support.
7. Keep accurate notes and calendars. If you are involved in a contested custody battle, you will most likely have to work with a Guardian ad Litem or a Custody Evaluator; it is also possible that you will have to have a hearing or trial. You will want to have documents and evidence of your claims. Stay organized and keep notes. (We do not recommend that you videotape or tape record your children. Videos and tape recordings can often look staged, even if they are not, and they could have the opposite effect than you intended.)
8. Do not overindulge your children. Even during a custody battle, you are still a parent and responsible for raising the child. Do not give into every one of your child’s demands so that he or she will like you better. Do not empower your child to think he or she has the control over the situation. You need to set appropriate boundaries and rules for your child, just as you would if you were not involved in a custody battle.
9. Do not introduce a significant other. If you choose to start dating before your divorce or custody battle is finalized, you should make every effort to hide that new relationship from your children. Your children do not need to meet your new significant other or that person’s children, even under the guise of a “play date with friends.” You should also never ask your children to hide the fact that they have met your significant other. The court wants to see that you understand that your children are going through a difficult time and that you are willing to set aside your needs to care for the children.
10. Hire an experienced family law attorney who is child-centered. The courtroom is the worst place for a family to find themselves. You do not want a perfect stranger to decide the most intimate details of your life. Interview your lawyer carefully. Ask if the lawyer has experience working with Guardian ad Litems and/or mental health professionals. Ask if the lawyer understands the best outcomes for children post-divorce. Ask the lawyer to explain the child custody factors and the best interest test. Hire a lawyer who understands that a hearing or trial should be the last resort and who understands that parents need to work together for the sake of their children.
We hope that you do not find yourself in a custody battle. Remember that quality over quantity is important. In most cases, you should not count the days that you have parenting time with the children; rather, you should ensure that you have quality time with a consistent schedule and that you are an active parent in the child’s life. However, we understand that it is not always possible to avoid a custody battle. So, if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of fighting for custody of your children, we hope that these tips will help you be successful.