The Law Firm of Bucknam Black Davis PC

Major Mistake to Avoid in Custody Disputes

Thus, unless the other parent is abusive to you or abusive or neglectful to your children, it is not a good idea to disparage the other parent as a part of presenting your case to the court. If you do, it may backfire, as the court may find you are unable to foster a positive relationship between the children and their other parent.

Similarly, you should make every effort to provide contact between the children and the other parent. If you limit contact, and the court finds no good reason for you to limit such contact, then the court may award the other parent custody.

Limiting contact with the other parent is also generally not good for your children. Children lose a great deal in a divorce–stability, family traditions, family routines, to name a few–and losing contact with their other parent adds greatly to their sense of loss.

Parents in custody and parent child contact disputes often tell the court that their children do not want to see the other parent. That representation can have the opposite effect of what you intend. Judges have heard hundreds of times parents tell them that their children do not want to see the other parent. Unless you have concrete reasons for the children to say they don’t want to visit, judges often assume it is because you are encouraging, either overtly or subconsciously, the children’s attitude towards the other parent. The courts know that children will often tell you what you want to hear, and if you feel devastated and betrayed by the other parent, the children will certainly pick up on your feelings. So children often want to make you feel better by saying they do not want to see the other parent.

Here are some tips for fostering a positive relationship between you children and the other parent:

  • Any disputes you have with the other parent should be out of earshot of your children
  • Do not disparage the other parent in front of the children, and tell your family not to do so either (Your family is often more angry at the other parent than you are.)
  • Try to be cooperative and flexible regarding parent child contact.
  • Try to work out issues regarding the children, such as house rules and after school activities, with the children’s other parent; and then present a united front, if possible regarding the issues. (This is good advice for any parent, but especially parents who are separated.)
  • If custody is going to be contested, be prepared to offer a reasonable parent child contact schedule to the court. The parent who offers a more generous parent child contact schedule to the other parent often has a better chance of obtaining custody, all other things being equal.
  • Be prepared to testify about the other party’s good parenting qualities.
  • In your testimony, focus on the children and their needs, not on your grievances with the other parent.

Things that are important to parties, but not to the court

>I often hear complaints from parents who do not like how their children’s other parent treats the children. Parents think the court will respond to the complaints and fix the problem. The complaints are legitimate, but the courts hear these complaints all the time, and therefore do not consider them important enough for court action–and the court knows there is little it can do about these problems. Here are a few:
The kids come home dirty, messy, with old clothes.
The clothes I send to (the other parent) never come back
The kids are always tired when they come home.
The kids are cranky and disrespectful when they come home, and it takes me three days to get them back on track.
The kids tell me they don’t want to go to (the other parent’s house); they don’t like it there, all they do is watch TV and sit around.

Unfortunately, there is not much the court can do about these complaints, so the best thing a parent can do is try to maintain as cordial a relationship as possible with the other parent, and talk about these issues in a nonconfrontational way. It will probably be hard, and may be impossible, but it is worth a try.

Here is my favorite piece of advice to my clients who are involved in disputes with the other parent: You will sacrifice anything for your kids, right? (right) If you need shoes, and your kids need shoes, who gets the shoes? (answer 100% of the time: the kids) Sacrifices come in different forms. Your sacrifice for your kids will be to bite your tongue when you feel like criticizing the other parent. It is a real sacrifice–just like not buying something you need so your kids will have what they need.

I know, I know, much easier said than done….In sympathy, Deb

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