You are about to embark on one of the worst battles of your life; facing an irate ex-husband in court regarding child custody arrangements for your child. You’ve never been to court. You don’t know how to behave and what to expect.
You’re apprehensive about seeing your ex-husband again. You’re wondering if your lawyer can stand up to the lawyer acting for your ex-husband. This is the arena you will enter when you do battle with an ex-spouse for the child custody. Before you go to war, you might want to take the following into consideration.
Legal advice on the best way to handle a child custody battle in court
- Dress conservatively, and be modest in manner. Don’t interrupt the judge or the evaluator, and don’t get into confrontational conversation with your ex-husband. You are being evaluated all the time. Your ex – husband will be on his best behavior. He is there to win by letting his lawyer earn his money and do the talking. Let everyone see what kind of mother you are. Whatever he says or does, don’t get roped into a fight.
- Your job as a parent is to nurture, support and protect your child at all times. When parents fight over child custody, the only one who wins is the lawyer who can charge extra fees. You are there to secure the right set-up, conditions, and permanent home for your child. Consider what your behavior is doing to the child. He has his own fears to deal with. He is wondering what is going to happen to him, and whether his father is going to leave. His main fear is that one of his parents will leave the house and that there will be no one to protect him. He may even be wondering if he is the cause of his parents’ break-up and divorce. He isn’t able to articulate his fears as he doesn’t know where to start. He just feels bad and sad. He needs support from his parents; he needs to be reassured and needs to feel safe. After a break-up, children can take a lot on of what is happening, and feel unhappy most of the time. Some children don’t work through their pain, and takes all this baggage with them.
- Remain on good terms with your ex-husband. Even though you might hate the sight of seeing him there, being on friendly terms will help you greatly. Suggest a voluntary mediation where both parties can meet in a mediation setting and state your wants and needs. Don’t be afraid to tackle details that will be satisfactory to all parties involved. It may be difficult for you to sit across the table of your ex-husband and his lawyer, but brush your discomfort aside and get down to the job of securing the best conditions for your child. Don’t use the mediation process to hurl insults and to settle old scores. Your ex-husband has moved on.
- If your child is present, don’t make negative comments about your ex-husband. This confuses and hurts a child. If you have divorced because of another woman, he won’t be interested in what you have to say in any event. You once loved him. Keep that in mind and wish him well in your heart. You will do better in this process if you don’t hate him. Hating is bad for the hater; it doesn’t do a thing to the person who is being hated. How you behave during the court or mediation process will directly affect the results.
- Consider the best interests of your child. The court will decide what is best for him, the suitability of living with his mother as opposed to living with his father, and how the arrangements will impact on him. Think about whether you are fair to the child, and whether you want sole child custody for reasons other than what is best for him. During mediation, talk about the child’s education and talk about ongoing school fees. Does your ex live close by for the child to go to school? Do you and your child go to church on Sunday? If your ex-husband also goes to church, talk about doing it on alternate Sundays with the child. If you are of different faiths, talk about which religion he will follow. If you decide that the child can choose, this may be the worst option as he will be totally confused. Let the child stay with what he knows best and what he best identifies with. You don’t want to add extra confusion.
- A child expert will tell you that the best place for the child is with both parents, but that isn’t on the table. And uprooting your child and forcing him to go into another area, is not the best option. Don’t dismiss the benefits of a joint child custody agreement. A child seeing both his parents every week can have the best benefits for him. You would keep in contact during the week by phone, and the child will spend one week with you and one week with his father. Whatever the arrangement, let it be fair to both parties.
- If you know the other parent to be abusive with an explosive behavior, or an alcoholic, or drug dependent, absolutely don’t agree to joint child custody. Living with an addict is hard and horrible for an adult, it will be worse for the child. This is not a punishment you are doling out to your former partner; it is just to protect your child from an unhappy environment.
- If the hearing is for an initial child custody determination, get your ducks in a row. The court is going to consider the best interests of the child. Courts no longer award child custody to the mother just because she is the mother, and you will have to demonstrate to the court that you are the right person to have sole child custody. The court will also look at the best home environment. If the child is over twelve, the court will give what he personally desires a great deal of weight. The court will also look at what you can offer the child. Will he have his own room, space for his belongings, a comfortable lifestyle? Do you have suitable arrangements for the child while you are at work? Are you able to deal with his social, emotional and educational needs? Is he in a safe neighborhood? Don’t argue your case by saying what the father can’t provide and bringing up things he has done to you, but rather focus on what you can offer. Your behavior should be flawless throughout the process. If you rant and rave it will demonstrate that you are possibly not the person the child should be with.
- With an older child, if the child desires it, the court may award child custody to the ex – husband as long as the above measures are in place. If both of you love your kid, there are no losers, and whoever gets child custody should accept the court’s determination with grace and get on with the business of the new arrangement and loving your child.