Note that I have framed the title of this article in the negative: how to lose a custody case, rather than how to win one. Why is this? It is because there are no sure-fire ways to achieve a successful result in a child custody case. There are, however, ways you can assuredly lose one. Here are ten examples of how to “lose” a child custody case:
1.) Treat your children as extensions of yourself rather than as individuals. Some parents are so narcissistic they consider their children only as extensions of themself. It’s not always about you! The standard courts use in deciding contested child custody issues is “what is in the best interest of the child?” Nowhere in that standard does it refer to the best interest of mom or dad. Stay child-centered and put your own ego aside for the benefit of your child.
2.) Alienate the child from the other parent. Parents that actively try to drive a wedge between the child and the other parent are not only acting irresponsibly but also jeopardizing their child custody case. Just as detrimental are parents so enmeshed with the child, that the child sees the other parent through the enmeshing parent’s eyes. Judges work hard to protect a child’s relationship with both parents, and if you actively or passively subvert the other parent’s relationship, lost parental rights may be the result.
3.) Enlist the child as a soldier. Some parents use their child as a soldier in their war against the other parent. They have that child spy on the other parent and report on his or her activities. When children are made soldiers in their parents’ war, they are always the first casualty. Don’t do it.
4.) Engage in competitive parenting. This is an expression coined by Attorney Mollie Peskind to reflect a parent’s relentless efforts to one-up the other parent. He or she does this by monopolizing all aspects of the child’s care. Sometimes it’s done strategically to displace the other parent, create allegiance with the child, and appear better to the judge. Other times this conduct is driven by a neurotic fear of losing the child rather than active scheming. Either way the results are the same: conflict in the house increases, the child becomes confused, and life becomes a running battle for control. Both parents have a right to enjoy time and share responsibility for the child’s care. If one parent is disrupting the domestic equilibrium, that parent may end up with fewer rights than they otherwise might have.
5.) Neglect the child’s needs. Sometimes a good parent becomes consumed by his or her own pain, leaving the child without proper care and guidance. Your children depend on you. Get a therapist to help transition and confront the darkness so you can quickly reenter the light for the benefit of the kids.
6.) Lose sight of what you can control. You have no control over how the other parent behaves in the role of parent. Accept it. Parents who obsess over the other parent’s poor parenting skills and try to limit that parent’s time usually shoot themselves in the foot. Absent some proveable danger to the child, courts will not restrict a parent’s time because of lousy parenting. Yes, parking little Johnny in front of his iPad all weekend is terrible parenting. But hectoring the offending parent won’t make it better. Nor will fruitless court appearances trying to change it. Compensate when you have the child, but let it go when you don’t.
7.) Reactivity. When triggered, can you control yourself? If not, you could be in trouble. And a wily spouse knows precisely where your triggers are. Anything you put in writing, text, or email may come back to haunt you. Know that your venal spouse is also likely keeping a journal with an inventory of every time you lose it. They may also be illegally recording it to share with a guardian ad litem. Assume everything you say or write will be shared with the judge, which leads us to tip number 8.
8.) You don’t play the game. Many results in court depend on appearances. The parent that looks better often prevails over the one who is actually the better parent. Do you promptly respond when the guardian ad litem asks for information? Do you scrupulously adhere to court orders even when you think they are wrong? Do you prepare your child for the other parent’s parenting time? Do you encourage that relationship even when you hate that person? It is your conduct that will be evaluated not your inherent skill as a parent. If you don’t play the game, you will lose it.
9.) Following the advice of family and friends. Well-meaning family and friends are simply not objective. Any advice they give you is tainted by their love of you and probable disdain for your spouse. Particularly dangerous are friends and family who have been divorced, who think their singular experience makes them experts. They are not. There is only one expert you should listen to, your lawyer.
10.) Ignoring your lawyer’s advice. Why do you pay a lawyer? To be your friend? No, but that does feel good. You pay your lawyer for his or her knowledge of the law, the court system, the judge and all of the collateral factors influencing the outcome of your case. When your lawyer tells you something is a bad idea, listen! Don’t freelance or resort to self-help, a sure-fire way to a devastating result. Get the best lawyer you can afford and work in tandem with him or her to present the best case you can.
Sometimes you have to deal with a difficult and rancorous spouse who wants to hurt you and is willing to sacrifice the children to do so. But if you follow the advice in this article, your spouse will likely fail in his or her quest. Don’t be your own (and by extension, your children’s) worst enemy by engaging in the self-destructive conduct I have described. There is no absolute way to win a case, but the actions I described here will undoubtedly lead to a negative result. If you focus on the best interest of your child and watch the unforced errors, you will enhance your chances of a successful outcome in court.