How Not to Behave During a Custody Battle

Child Custody BattleA custody battle can transform an otherwise calm, rational, thoughtful individual into a whirling dervish of rage, anxiety, and bad behavior. People, like animals, tend to lash out when they're threatened. And few things are more threatening than having your parenting skills, your integrity, and your moral fitness called into question as a child custody dispute can do. Even so, those things pale in comparison to the threat of losing custody of your children.

Given what's at stake, it's understandable that most people are not their best selves when in the midst of an active child custody case. Unfortunately, judges and custody evaluators may not see things the same way. As a parent embroiled in a custody battle, you're entitled to your feelings—but if you want to prevail, your behavior cannot betray your worst emotions. Here are some guidelines on what not to do during your custody case.

Don't badmouth the other parent.

Your child's other parent may be guilty of doing and saying terrible things. He or she may even say terrible, and false, things about you directly to your children, or in their presence. It seems so unfair to not be able to let others, including your children, know the real story.

There are a number of reasons to resist the temptation to even the score. First and foremost, it's bad for your children. Your children need and want to love both their parents. When one parent creates a situation in which the children feel they need to reject one parent in order to please the other, it creates unimaginable stress on them.

Similarly, don't badmouth your child's other parent publicly. It could get back to your ex or to your children. In any case, it makes you seem immature and can even harm your custody case if word reaches the judge that you've been speaking out. The judge may take that as a sign you are unwilling to foster a good relationship between your children and their other parent and hurt your custody case.

What to do instead: Of course, you need to vent your feelings. Confide in one or two carefully-selected, discreet friends, and consider working with a counselor who will allow you to both vent your feelings and develop helpful techniques for coping with the stress a custody battle brings.

Don't violate child support or parenting time orders.

Parenting TimeYou may feel that your ex's misdeeds warrant some type of punishment, and it might occur to you to withhold child support or parenting time. After all, if your ex isn't being a good parent, he or she doesn't deserve those things, right?

Wrong. Violating a court order causes two kinds of problems. First, doing so denies your kids things they need: financial support and time with their other parent. Second, you're handing your ex evidence he or she can use against you in the custody battle: evidence that you're uncooperative and that you have no respect for the court's orders.

What to do instead: Comply with court orders regarding child support and parenting time, and document your the transgressions of your children's other parent, such as failing to pick children up for parenting time or returning them several hours late, or taking them on a vacation without your knowledge or in violation of a court order. Now you're the one with a clean record, and evidence of the other parent's poor behavior.

Don't force a new significant other on your children.

For children, their parents' divorce or separation turns their world upside down and makes life seem unpredictable and unstable. Unlike their parents, children have no say whatsoever in whether, when, or how parents separate. While you may have been adjusting to the idea for quite some time, and may feel ready to move on with a new romantic relationship, your children are likely not ready to see you with a new partner, and may react very negatively, especially if you move in together or they perceive your new partner as usurping their other parent's place. Depending on the circumstances, the judge in your custody case may view your new relationship unfavorably as well.

What to do instead: It's probably best for you, as well as for your kids, if you avoid moving too quickly in a new relationship before you're well out of the old one. If you are dating, be discreet and take things slowly and wait to introduce your kids to the new relationship.

There are other, more obvious don'ts, of course. Don't allow your feelings to make you become violent or destructive to the other parent or their property. Don't abuse alcohol or drugs. Don't send crass or threatening e-mails or texts to your children's other parent. In general, don't do anything you wouldn't want the judge in your custody case to see or hear you doing.

Taking the high road is hard, especially when the other parent is behaving badly and seeming to get away with it. Rest secure in the knowledge that what you are doing is better for your kids, even if they don't yet know it. That doesn't mean your ex's bad behavior shouldn't come to the judge's attention; it should just be presented firmly, factually, and calmly, by your experienced family law attorney.

Contact Bloch and Whitehouse, P.A. at (952) 224-9977 to schedule a free initial consultation. We can help you get perspective on your child custody matter and help you make sure your children, and your judge, see you for the loving, involved parent that you are.