Parental Alienation & Slander
While things are heated, do not expose your child to the dysfunction or any resentment that you may have towards your ex. Do not try to sabotage, discourage, undermine or interfere with your child’s relationship to their other parent, no matter how covert. Never share inappropriate information regarding the custody case or make them feel like they have to choose a side. A child has a right to a relationship with the other parent that is free of negative influence.
Remember, if you degrade your ex in front of your child, you are essentially degrading a part of your child. This behavior can cause serious harm to their wellbeing and can be interpreted as a form of emotional abuse. Family Courts take Parental Alienation very seriously. It is your responsibility to help your child to adjust physically and emotionally to new custody arrangements.
Unwillingness to Co-Parent, Being the Difficult Parent
Do not make unilateral decisions on matters that should be discussed by both parents (ie. Removing the child from their school and enrolling them in another). Do not withhold important information from the other parent such as your child’s school or medical documents. While maintaining a healthy boundary, demonstrate your flexibility and willingness to work with the other parent. Document your ex’s resistance to co-parent, tendency to create conflict or any unilateral decisions made.
Present yourself as more cooperative and willing to work together. Do not engage in any behavior or actions that encourage the Judge to pin you as the difficult parent. The majority of cases that actually reach trial include at least one parent who can be deemed abnormally difficult and/or mentally unstable. Judges will try to identify early on which parent is resisting an amicable situation or not considering the best interest of the child.
If your ex has a high-conflict personality (HCP), continue to show your willingness and attempts to co-parent until a proper custody is ordered. When negotiating a parenting agreement with an HCP, a parallel parenting arrangement may be better suited.
Never prematurely move out of the family’s primary residence. If you live in a safe and stable home, it is preferable not to move during a custody dispute. This can be construed as abandonment and can negatively impact custody rulings, child support payments, and alimony. If it is necessary to live apart from the primary residence, do not leave without securing a signed parenting agreement that includes a physical schedule outlining your percentage of time and overnights with the child. When at all possible, stay in the primary residence.
Signing Off on Temporary Custody
Signing off on an unequal or unfair temporary custody agreement before the final order is made can greatly weaken your case. Many fathers find that a “temporary” custody arrangement often becomes permanent and it can be a lengthy and difficult process to change. If a father aims to secure equal time with his child, he needs to show that it is in their best interest and arrange as much time as possible from the start.
Exhibiting Anger, Loss of Control, Threats
Unfortunately, the actions of males are more easily construed as violent, angry or abusive. You must pay particular attention to your impulses, softening your communication and mannerisms during this time. Do not speak or send anything to your ex that may be easily misinterpreted or demonstrates an inability to manage your anger. Don’t take to a social networking site to blow off some steam. These public posts can be easily documented and used against you and your case. Keep your emotions in check—it is best to assume that your ex is recording and documenting your conversations and interactions to use as evidence.
If you have been convicted of domestic violence, gaining custody will be more challenging, but you will likely be granted sufficient visitation if you can demonstrate that your child isn’t in any danger while in your care. Domestic violence and other abuse allegations are rampant in Family Court cases, so it is best to avoid any conflict where the facts could easily be distorted. If there’s a scheduled interaction such as an exchange, bring a witness with you or arrange to meet in a public location.
These days, parents have lost custody of their children due to spanking or utilizing other forms corporal punishment. Although it may be considered legal in some states, corporal punishment is often seen as an inappropriate form of discipline and is frequently used against custody cases by being construed as child abuse. If your discipline includes spanking or physical repercussions, stop immediately and use alternative discipline techniques.
Drugs, Alcohol, Irresponsible Lifestyle
Withdraw from using any recreational drugs, excessive alcohol consumption or boasting an irresponsible lifestyle. A Judge may determine that a parent who drinks irresponsibly or is frequently out “partying” has a diminished capacity to care for a child or a tendency to be more neglectful. It’s imperative to adjust your lifestyle and engage in more benign activities while your custody case is pending. If your custody case is high-conflict, even a casual glass of wine every night can be misconstrued as irresponsible.
Dating and New Relationships
Use caution when dating during a custody dispute. Depending on the presiding state, Family Courts have varying perspectives about introducing a new romantic or living partner into the mix during custody dispute. While the child is in your care, the traditional advice is to not have sleepovers until the court makes a ruling. If you have developed a serious relationship with a new partner, be able to demonstrate that it is stable and healthy for your child to be exposed to. For your child’s sake, take it slow when introducing this new partner to your child’s home and daily life.