Clients frequently ask what they can do to help their children through a custody dispute, and how best to prepare to go to court. These six tips, if followed, can benefit everyone involved.
It is important to understand that a child’s relationship with each parent is separate and distinct from your relationship with the other parent. Just because you don’t have a good relationship with the other parent does not mean your child should not have a good relationship with that parent.
As a general rule, it is important to show the other parent the same respect and courtesies that you would want if the roles were reversed. Do not make negative or disparaging remarks about the other parent or others who are important in your child’s life either in front of, or directly to your child. A parent’s ability to facilitate relationships and effectively communicate with the other parent is a factor the court is required to consider and it is important for you to encourage your child to enjoy those relationships.
Your child has a right to be a child and should not be placed in a situation where he or she feels a need to pick sides or show loyalty to one parent at the other parent’s expense. Instead, focus on building your own positive relationship with your child.
Communication between the parents is often strained or difficult when there is a custody dispute, however it is important for the communication to include both verbal conversations and written communication such as text, email, etc. While it is important to document things in a written format, it should not be the exclusive means of communicating with the other parent. It is important for your child to see you are able to talk to each other, even if only to acknowledge the other parent and/or exchange pleasantries. Your child will benefit from seeing parents engaging with each other in a civil, respectful and non-adversarial manner. To the extent possible, your child should be insulated from any animosity and/or ill-will directed toward each other. You should not engage in any arguments, disagreements or heated discussions in front of your child, nor should you speak about those things in an area in which your child can hear you.
Children are very perceptive and often pick up on the non-verbal cues just as much, if not more than, what is actually said so it is important to be a good role model for your children. Further, as most parents are aware, children can have a tendency to attempt to manipulate the adults they are in the care of to get what they want in a particular moment or situation. When parents are separated, this tendency of children to manipulate each parent may increase. Remember, custody is not about winning or losing, it is about raising happy, healthy and well-adjusted children.
In the age of social media, it can be very tempting to make an internet post about things that are occurring in your divorce/custody dispute, but you should refrain from doing so. It is best to keep the details to yourself as personal details involving the other parent or your children should not be made available for others to see. If your co-parent, friends or family are able to see the posts, then the judges and lawyers will be able to find them as well, and they can be used against you in the legal proceedings.
Remember to be your child’s parent, not their friend, personal confidant or therapist. Raising children in separate households can be confusing enough for children who are learning to adapt to different sets of household rules and parenting styles so do not further complicate things by sharing details of the divorce, separation or custody dispute with them. It is not good for your children, and is discouraged by the court. The details shared with children often come to light very quickly when speaking with a judge or conference officer, so even though you may think it is important for your child to know the sordid details, you should not discuss with them because nothing good will come of it.
Ultimately, in all custody proceedings, the focus of the court will be on making decisions which the court believes are in the best interest of the children. Following the above tips will help parents involved in custody proceedings distinguish between what may be in that parent’s best interest and what may be in the children’s best interest, as many times they may not be the same thing.
Written by Attorney Lisa J. McCoy.