You are getting divorced, and you have children. It is impossible not to be overwhelmed with questions, concerns, and fears about how your divorce will impact child custody. There are so many decisions to make, and many of them feel unbearable. Here are some simple tips for addressing custody issues that can help resolve your fears.
4 Things Everyone Should Know About Divorce And Child Custody
1. Consult with (and likely hire) an attorney with experience in this area.
Many people are concerned with the cost of a divorce, and that is certainly understandable. However, if you know custody is going to be an issue in your divorce, it pays to have a consultation with a family law attorney with experience in custody cases in your location. There are so many nuances to this area of law, which varies greatly from state to state.
You MUST know the standards in your area. Is there a presumption of shared custody? What would you have to prove to be granted sole custody? What will a Court consider when making determinations of custody and parenting time? How does the Court address emergent issues of a child's safety? The rules of court and applicable laws in this area are very specialized. Educating yourself from the beginning with advice from an experienced attorney can set the tone for how you proceed.
2. Establish your goals for the litigation.
You should decide with your attorney your goals for the litigation and your approach for resolution at the beginning of your representation. If custody will be contested, it is often apparent from the very beginning. The over-riding goal should be to seek a custodial arrangement that meets the best interests of the children. However, litigation comes into play when the parties cannot agree on what is best for their children. Establishing early on what your goal is, ensures that no unnecessary litigation is taken.
Your attorney can begin strategizing and planning for what may be necessary. You may need a custody expert, therapist or other mental health professional. The attorney will help you figure out what professionals are needed to help you meet your goals. You can help the attorney not only by defining what you believe to be in the best interests of your children but by sharing what information you know as to why your spouse might be seeking their desired custodial arrangement.
Are they motivated by spite? Are they seeking a change from the parenting responsibilities during the marriage? Are they motivated by a desire to control? Or, are they a good parent who is truly motivated by having equal access to the children? By understanding the other parent's motivation, you may be able to help your attorney understand the reason for the disconnect over the parties' positions.
3. Consider your own motivations, and how they affect the children.
Most parents believe they know what is best for their children. But in a divorce situation, some people's judgments can be clouded by their own pain or hurt feelings. A parent may seek more custodial time because they have heard they will pay less child support. A parent may seek custody because they know it will hurt their spouse the most. Many parents have a hard time with the thought of giving up "control" over their children or are simply concerned that they will miss the children being apart from them.
Take an honest look at the reasons you are taking a certain position. Get therapy if it is needed to help you make clear-headed decisions. There are plenty of very valid reasons to seek to have the children reside with you (substance abuse problems, lack of availability due to demanding work schedules, mental illness, lack of bond or quality time prior to the separation, special needs of a child). However, you want to make sure you are motivated by your children's best interests and not your own.
4. Never put the children in the middle of a divorce.
This factor cannot be stressed enough in each and every case. Always consider the affects of a divorce on your child. A divorce brings so many feelings of upheaval to a child. It is the parents' duty to make the children feel loved and secure during the divorce process. Always remember that the best way to ensure this is for the children not to witness arguments between parents or hear disparaging comments about the other parent. It is your job as the parent to insulate the children from such behavior.
Children will thrive after divorce if they see their parents treat one another with respect and cordially. Children who see their parents happy will respond accordingly. Children do not need to know what is going on in a litigation. This causes them distress. Even when experts are involved and your children have to be interviewed, there is an age appropriate way to explain to the children their involvement. Never allow your own personal feelings to cloud your parenting judgment. Not only could that jeopardize your case, it could have lasting effects on the well-being of your child.
Custody cases can be gut-wrenching and costly. But following these helpful hints can help you proceed with dignity.