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Custody Battle - How to Avoid Custody Issues During a Divorce

What is a Custody Battle and How Do You Avoid One?

A custody battle occurs when divorcing or divorced parents disagree about who should retain legal or physical custody of their children. Unfortunately, this is a common cause of litigation in family court, second only to litigation over support payments.

Custody battles are costly, both emotionally and financially, and can wreak havoc in the lives of the children involved. It’s important to educate yourself about the common causes of custody battles, how to avoid one, how to defend your child’s best interests, and what to do if you must file one.

How is Child Custody Awarded?

Absent any evidence that a parent is unfit, family law judges in most states will apply some form of a “best interests of the child” analysis. They will also factor in the rights of each parent to maintain a relationship with their children.

In determining the best interests of a child, a judge will consider:

  • The child’s age (younger children need more hands-on care);
  • Any evidence of the parenting ability of each parent;
  • What parenting arrangement will maintain a consistent routine for the child;
  • How any proposed change will impact the child’s current routine or lifestyle;
  • The child’s wishes, if the child is mature enough;
  • What parenting arrangement best protects the child’s physical safety and emotional well-being.

Historically, family law judges automatically awarded custody to mothers, but this is not the case today. Unless there are compelling reasons not to, judges will award parents joint legal custody, and either joint physical custody or physical custody with one parent, the other to have liberal parenting time.

When one parent wants to change the custody arrangement for any reason, they may choose to go to court. If the other parent disagrees, this is what is called a “custody battle.”

What Happens in a Custody Battle?

In a custody battle, also called a “custody dispute,” one parent seeks to change the child custody arrangement by filing a motion in family court and seeking a court order. The reasons parents need to do this may vary and can be any of the following.

One parent is:

  • Unfit
  • Emotionally abusive or absent
  • Physically or sexually abusive
  • A drug or alcohol abuser
  • In a living environment that is unsafe for any reason
  • Suffering from mental health problems
  • Unable to financially support the children
  • Attempting to alienate the children from the other parent

With the help of a good divorce attorney, the plaintiff parent must prove that for whatever reason, the children’s well-being is endangered by the defendant parent. “Well-being” includes physical safety as well as emotional and educational nurturing. Defendant parents often bring a counter-suit alleging that the plaintiff parent is unfit.

It’s important to know that the plaintiff parent faces an uphill battle to persuade the court that the defendant parent should not have custody of the children, because the law favors joint custody and the rights of parents to have relationships with their children.

Custody battles can be drawn-out and expensive. Not only will you pay court fees and ongoing attorney fees, but you will probably pay fees to experts for their evaluation and testimony, and perhaps fees to investigators. Custody battles also take an emotional toll on the entire family, especially if the children themselves have to testify. Pitting children against their parents in court can cause life-long emotional damage.


Wondering how to coparent when you absolutely “hate” your Ex? You’ll want to read our post about coparenting with an ex you hate.


How Can I Avoid a Custody Battle?

A parent having sole or joint custody of their children can try to avoid a custody battle by allowing their coparent the custody or parenting time ordered and by doing their best to cooperate and collaborate with their coparent.

Unfortunately, disputes arise. Your coparent may disagree with your parenting style or decisions you make and may make an allegation of abuse or unfitness, even if untrue. In this case, you will not be able to avoid a custody battle.

Consult with an attorney if your coparent files a custody dispute. Although your coparent must satisfy a high burden of proof of parental unfitness, you will need to assert your rights immediately. In cases where abuse of any kind is alleged, your children can be taken from you before it is proven in order to protect the children from possible harm.

What to Do if Your Coparent Alleges You Are Abusing Drugs or Alcohol

If you have a history of drug or alcohol use, this does not automatically make you unfit to parent your children. You should gather evidence that you have sought treatment and have been successfully treated for drug or alcohol dependency. This evidence can include proof of attending rehabilitation and negative drug or alcohol tests. Agreeing to continued drug or alcohol testing will help you retain custody of your children.

What to Do if Your Coparent Alleges You Suffer From Mental Illness

If you have a history of mental illness, this does not necessarily mean you are unfit to parent your children. You should gather evidence that you have recovered or are being successfully treated. This evidence can include the testimony or affidavits of psychologists or psychiatrists or the testimony or affidavit of the doctor who prescribes your medication.


How do you feel anchored when you are thinking about divorce and also spinning with all the information and unanswered unknowns? Check out “Overthinking When to Leave Your Husband.”


I Want Sole Custody of My Children, What Can I Do?

If you feel that the best interests of your children dictate that you have sole custody, you must file a custody dispute. Be advised that this will be expensive and may take months if your coparent defends.

Gather evidence that shows your coparent is unfit. If the reasons your coparent is unfit include any form of abuse, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse of your children, contact your local police and file a report. This can expedite the removal of the children from the coparent’s care and keep them safe while the court decides whether or not to change the custody arrangement.

Although a custody battle can be expensive and ugly, sometimes you cannot avoid one. Put your feelings aside about your partner as a spouse and ask yourself, is s/he generally a good parent? If so, it’s time to come to terms with the fact that your children deserve equal time with him/her. On the other hand, do not hesitate to file a custody dispute if you suspect that your children are unsafe or unattended to while in the care of your coparent.

 

About the Author

Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant living and working in the great city of Philadelphia, USA. She frequently works with Lee Schwartz, a noted child custody lawyer in Philadelphia.

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce, or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. 

“A healthy divorce requires smart steps through and beyond the divorce document.” Learn what we mean and what it means for you in a FREE 15-minute consultation.

Parenting Through Divorce is not a cake walk

Parenting Through Divorce: 8 Things NOT to Do

Being a parent always offers a healthy dose of challenges, but parenting through divorce means facing challenges on a whole other level. Throughout your divorce, you may feel a surge of emotions—from anger to bitterness—but it’s ever so important to cope with them. Despite the impulses you may feel, these are some things you should not do to lessen the impact of divorce on you and your children.

1. Don’t aim to seek justice through the court system

Do everything to avoid court by getting educated in advance. Learn what your legal choices are and how you want to go through the divorce process. Talk to a divorce coach to understand your choices based on your needs, your story, and to help you take the next steps. Going to Family Court is a last resort. You want to negotiate and reach an agreement before then. Negotiating will save you months in court and thousands of dollars—plus it can result in a more harmonious coparenting relationship.

2. Don’t make your children choose sides

It’s important to recognize that your children do not have the same relationship with your Ex that you do. With some exceptions, children naturally love both their parents. Respect your children’s bond with your Ex by never asking your children whom they want to live with or who’s the better parent. If your children share unprompted thoughts about parenting arrangements, listen and ask your divorce coach, attorney, or mediator how they can be taken into consideration as decisions are made.

3. Don’t complain about your Ex in front of your kids

Pay attention to how you speak about your Ex in front of your children. Do you demean him or her? Do you get angry? Even your body language or tone of voice can send confusing and painful messages to your children. Over time, the hatred or bitterness you feel toward your Ex can dissipate, but these emotions will leave a lasting impression on your kids. Even if children and teenagers don’t verbalize their thoughts, hearing you complain about their other parent does affect them.

4. Don’t keep the kids from your Ex

Studies show that children can develop mental health issues when there is a disruption of a parent-child relationship. Do what you can to support your children’s relationship with their other parent. There are special circumstances, however, where you should keep your children away from your Ex, like when there has been a history of domestic or substance abuse. In these cases, supervised visitation is the best way for your Ex to have contact with your children.

5. Don’t coach your children

Coaching your children to say what you want is a big no-no. During the divorce process, you may deal with a judge and possibly a custody evaluator—both are trained specialists and will know if your kids are repeating lines they’ve heard from you. Not only will this make you look bad, but it will put your kids in a terrible position. Divorce is a difficult situation for them, too, and coaching your children could confuse them more.

6. Don’t go to court with your children

If you become involved in a custody battle, it might seem like a good idea to take your children to a court proceeding to sway a judge’s decision. But this could backfire. A courtroom is no place for children and dragging yours along could make you seem manipulative or irrational. If no one is available to care for your little ones while you attend Family Court, many courts offer children’s waiting rooms.

7. Don’t make false claims

If you do go to court, making false claims about your Ex is one of the worst things you can do. Lying under oath and fabricating statements are considered perjury, a crime punishable with fines or jail time.  Getting caught making false claims is also likely to affect your request for custody; you could even be brought back to court to have a final order changed. To avoid these and other sticky situations, always acknowledge the truth of events.

8. Don’t leave the state with your children (or break other standing orders)

Some counties have standing orders that go into effect when a divorce is filed. Other counties issue standing orders when requested. A standing order will come into place to ensure that you and your Ex refrain from any actions that could disrupt the lives of your children. Taking your kids out of state or enrolling them in a new school without permission from your Ex may violate your standing orders. Be sure to carefully review your court’s standing orders because failure to comply could make you guilty of contempt of court, an offense punishable with jail time or a fine. If you wonder if you can or cannot do something as your divorce coach or legal counsel. Getting divorced can be a scary and lonely path. Educating yourself on the do’s and don’ts of the process will make you feel more empowered and less intimidated. With the right mindset and knowledge, you will avoid making mistakes that will impact your family and begin to parent through divorce in the healthiest way.

This article was authored by Karen Lopez, writer and researcher at Custody X Change, a custody app solution. Custody X Change provides software for developing and managing custody agreements, parenting plans, and schedules.

Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to help them through the often times complicated and confusing experience of divorce. For emotional support and structured guidance now, consider Annie’s Group, our virtual divorce support and coaching class for women thinking about divorce or beginning the process. Schedule your 15-minute chat now to learn if this education is right for you, and where you want to go.