During a divorce, your stress level can rise exponentially. When it comes to issues you’re emotionally invested in, such as your children’s welfare, it’s easy to lose patience and perspective. Under these circumstances, you’ve got to keep a cool head, control your impulses, and let the process play out. A misstep now could give your soon-to-be ex ammunition in court. The last thing you want is for the judge to look askance at you before rendering a decision on your suitability for custody. With that in mind, here are six things you must avoid while you’re in a child custody dispute.
- Don’t interfere with visitation — The judge wants to know that you can cooperate in co-parenting with your ex and that you can fulfill your responsibilities to your children. If you are the custodial parent, you have a duty to make the children ready for visits with the other parent. This can mean overcoming your children’s reticence. If you think indulging them and canceling because, “they don’t feel like going,” you’re making a big mistake. If you fail to produce the children, the other parent can accuse you of attempting to alienate their affection. A judge will hesitate to grant custody to a parent who will not honor the other parent’s rights. On the other side, a parent with visitation sessions should be prompt and plan appropriate activities. Canceling at the last minute or failing to maximize your time with your kids will signal that you’re not ready for custodial responsibilities.
- Don’t bad mouth your children’s other parent — A factor judges look for when awarding custody is whether a parent is willing to support the other parent’s loving relationship with the children. Anything you do that might undermine their relationship is a strike against you. While denigrating the other parent in front of your children is totally unacceptable, you should also be careful sharing negative opinions with anyone who might appear in court and witness against you.
- Don’t disrupt your children’s life — Courts favor granting custody to parents who can provide stability for their children. But too often, parents feel the need to compensate for the disruption they fear the divorce is causing. They feel the need to treat their kids to special outings or buy them gifts. Some will even take them out of school for impromptu vacations. But what your children really need is the comfort of their daily routine. You should also put off introducing new people to them, especially a new romantic interest. This can be extremely unsettling and cause undue anxiety.
- Don’t make threats — We all lose our cool once in a while. But we’ve got to control our tongues. Making threats to physically harm someone or keep them from ever seeing their children (or parent) again will come back to haunt you. Judges take any intimation of domestic violence very seriously, and such threats can cast you in an extremely unfavorable light.
- Don’t self-medicate — When we’re under stress, we all need to take the edge off. But if you’re drinking or using drugs to mellow out, you could raise red flags for the court. The last thing you need is a DUI arrest in the middle of your custody battle.
- Don’t make a negative impression in court — They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, which doubly for court appearances. When you come to court, you want to look responsible. There’s no need to be flashy or impressive. You simply need to present yourself as a responsible, sober adult. When parents dress too casually, judges are likely to conclude that they’re not taking the proceedings seriously. If a hearing to decide the fate of your children matters so little to you, you’re probably not a good candidate for sole custody. Beyond appearances, you must also comport yourself reasonably. Observe the rules of the court; speak when you are spoken to and avoid outbursts, even when outrageous statements trigger you. You will get your chance to tell your side of the story, and the judge will decide which party is most credible. That’s generally the party that keeps their cool.
There’s a seventh point we need to make: don’t trust your case to just any child custody attorney. You need to find someone who is as passionate about advocating for you as you are about winning custody of your children. When differences seem insurmountable, you want an attorney who has extensive experience in contentious custody disputes and knows how to deliver results.