In situations where a couple with children decides to divorce, the issue of child custody must be resolved. This includes who will be the primary residential parent and a parenting time schedule for the non-custodial parent. If the parties cannot agree on these issues, a custody battle can result.
Custody disputes can become very emotional and encourage irrational behavior not in the best interests of the parties, including the children involved. Below are some of the most common mistakes people make during a child custody dispute – behavior one should avoid at all costs.
1. Ignoring Custody Orders
Custody orders can ether be agreed to by the parties or established by the court. Either way, an existing custody order is enforceable by the court. Intentionally violating the order can result in a finding of contempt of court and potential jailtime. In addition, violating the order will not elevate your standing with the court. A child custody dispute is not the time to look bad or irresponsible to the judge.
2. Criticizing the Other Parent in Front of or to the Children
It is not uncommon for a party in a divorce to experience feelings of bitterness, hostility, and frustration by the entire custody process. Regardless of how your soon to be ex-spouse behaves, do not criticize him or her in front of your children. Doing so places your children in a position where they feel they have to choose sides. Divorce is difficult enough for your children. If your soon to be ex makes choices which negatively impact the children, odds are the children already know. If you need to vent, do so to your friends or perhaps a therapist. It is always more appropriate to complain to an adult than it is to your children.
3. Threatening the Other Parent
Remember when you are involved in a custody dispute, all of your actions and your words can be used as evidence against you in the court proceedings. Your behavior, as well as that of your soon to be ex-spouse, will be observed carefully by the court during the custody dispute. Your ability to get along with the other parent can be a factor the court considers in determining child custody. Threats do not show an ability to get along. Assume that all of your actions are being recorded – they may be.
4. Posting Disparaging Comments on Social Media
Never post disparaging comments about the other party, the attorneys, the system in general, or the judge on any form of social media. Anything posted on social media is public. Your posts may be used against you in court. It is probably best to not post on social media at all during a divorce proceeding, especially if there is a custody battle. Even seemingly harmless posts can cause an unnecessary (and unhelpful) emotional reaction from the other side.
5. Telling Your Children to Take “Your Side”
Do not coach your children to take your side in a custody dispute. Never encourage them to lie or say things that you think will be helpful to you. Your children may be interviewed by experts and possibly the court. The experts will know if your child has been coached or is speaking from the heart. If you are caught coaching your children it will hurt your case. Instead of trying to coach your children with words, let your actions demonstrate your parenting abilities.
6. Taking Your Children Out of State or Anywhere Else Without Telling the Other Parent
Do not do something that will panic the other parent. Both parents need to know there their children are at all times. A failure to keep the other parent informed of the children’s whereabouts is likely a violation of the custody order and possibly state law. Respect your soon to be ex-spouse and their feelings. This is a difficult time for everyone. Remember, as long as you have children in common, you will have some sort of relationship with the other parent, likely beyond childhood. Your words and actions today set the tone for future interactions.
7. Engaging in “Retail Therapy”
Regardless of how good you think shopping feels, this is not the time to go on a shopping spree. Courts may view spending excessively suspiciously, especially if you are arguing you cannot afford current levels of child support or your children’s expenses. Emotional spending may feel good in the short term, but it may hurt your case in the long term.
8. Moving in With Your New Significant Other
Sometimes, moving in with a new love seems like a good idea. This is an emotional time and coming home to someone that supports you can be reassuring and helpful. However, having a romantic partner living with you or spending the night while going through a custody dispute can confuse and upset the children. In addition, it does not show good judgment. Courts may view this conduct negatively.
9. Passively Allow Yourself to Agree
During the custody proceedings you will feel pressure to settle. Settling a custody matter can be a good thing if it is in the best interests of your children and is under terms you can live with. Do not shut down and agree with anything in the face of conflict. This is rarely in your children’s best interests or your best interests. Any agreement you enter into will govern your relationship with your children and the other parent into the future. Make sure your voice is heard. It is possible to change an agreement in the future, but it can be difficult. It is much easier to get what you need in the initial agreement. This does not mean you should not be willing to compromise. Work with your attorney and stand up for what you want.
10. Representing Yourself
Custody disputes are extremely complicated, particularly if they result in litigation. Critical skills include high level negotiation skills and knowledge of the law. Even experienced divorce attorneys do not represent themselves in family law matters. Working with an attorney may seem expensive in the beginning, but you will have to live with the results. Hiring a qualified, experienced family law attorney will help you achieve the best results possible in your case.
If You Are Facing a Child Custody Dispute
If you are facing a child custody dispute, contact our office for a consultation. Whether you are simply considering a divorce, or you wish to modify an existing child custody order, our attorneys at Fait & DiLima are ready to assist you and your family. We have over 50 years of combined family law experience. We have locations in both Rockville and Fredrick for your convenience.