A contested custody case will likely be one of the most difficult processes you will ever face. Regardless of how you arrive in this situation, or how strong your case, there are a few universal thoughts and stages, you will go through.
1. If I just talk to them, all of this will be worked out.
You're a rational person. Your ex, you begrudgingly admit, at one time or another was a rational person. All you need is to have a simple discussion, each calmly discuss your views and then you will peacefully come to an agreement that is centered on what is best for your child. It doesn't have to be this hard. Well, maybe it'll work. I'll never forget advice that was given to me... "A
Well, maybe it'll work. I'll never forget advice that was given to me... "A 10-minute conversation could save you $10,000". The truth is you never know what a rational, honest discussion can bring - especially if you are open to listening and compromise.
Unfortunately, the reason you are in this situation to begin with is probably due to the fact that having such a conversation isn't in the cards. But regardless of your past exchanges, you will still, unrealistically and full of hope, have the thought, "I’ll just call him and fix this".
2. What did I get myself into?
Custody battles are the pit of despair. It will be the most stressful, time-consuming and expensive venture you will ever face, full of tears, sleepless nights and difficult financial decisions. Getting to the point of a contentious custody case is not something that happens overnight but you will still feel like you were suddenly thrown to the wolves.
The entire process brings out the worst in everyone. When you are faced with unknowns of your child’s future, it's easy to feel overwhelmed with fear and worry. For me this, “what did I do”, thought first came when sitting at the courthouse before our initial hearing. Even when the decision to open the case is well thought out and planned, the enormity of it all can take you by surprise and leave you wondering if you made the right decision.
3. The family court system is broken.
You are looking at the facts of your case and you can't believe that you have to defend yourself or jump through hoops to prove what is plain as day. Whether it’s a case of abuse, abandonment or a whole host of other scenarios, in your mind it should be a slam dunk.
Spoiler: The other person is likely thinking the same exact thing. The truth is, no matter what has occurred in your past or what the relationship is like with your ex, the system is set up to give them every possible chance to play a large role in your child's life.
For most situations, that is a wonderful thing. It protects parents that have an ex who is restricting visitation or access and it also protects the parent that has turned their life around. The issue with blanket regulations is that the process is made long and difficult for those who truly have reasons for changing custody orders.
Even if your case fits all of the legal requirements of what you are claiming, you are left with the wild card – child’s best interest. To be more exact, it’s your child’s best interest as perceived by the judge. The unknowns in that area will be terrifying and the sole reason why much thought is needed before opening a contested case.
4. I give up!
Months after starting this process you will be physically and emotionally exhausted. You've had to fight and stay strong in the face of tremendous stress. You've had difficult talks with your kids, home studies, GAL assignments and have had to uncomfortably discuss personal details of your past with strangers. You will feel that you are on
You will feel that you are on trial because in a sense you are. If you started the process the burden of proof is on you to show evidence of your claims. If you are the respondent, you have to show that the claims are not an accurate presentation of your situation.
This process is long. Even when you keep it moving and even when you get positive news, you will at some point find yourself wanting to give up. It's a difficult decision to make - do you give up and count your losses or do you see it through to the end regardless of what happens?
The peace that comes with a final decision is a breath of fresh air after experiencing such a wide range of emotions along the way. Merely removing the unknown you faced for so long will reduce a large amount of stress. Having to no longer worry about additional lawyer bills or court dates brings a sense of peace.
Regardless of how you may feel about the final decision, you have to take time to heal from the process. You and your children have gone through what feels like a battle and many times feelings can surface that you pushed away during the stress of the moment. Taking the time to relax and letting the situation settle is an important step in the process. Acceptance of the final decision can be a powerful tool for everyone involved.