To most parents, nothing is more terrifying than the thought of someone taking your child away. Unfortunately, many families experience separation, divorce, relocation, and other life events, which result in sharing children between homes. People end up in court when they are unable to make a decision about how that time sharing and decision making will work.
In many cases, the Court will appoint a Custody Evaluator to investigate the allegations made by each party, and make a report to the court. These processes can feel intimidating and invasive. Knowing what to expect and how to respond to your children’s questions can help make the experience more bearable.
1. Keep your kids out of it! Involving children in a custody battle can be detrimental to the children’s well-being and to your case. Don’t say negative things about the other parent to or around the kids – even if those things are true! Do what you can to allay any fears or uncertainties that they are feeling. If your children ask questions, reassure them that both parents love them, and that both parents will continue to be part of their lives. If the children are old enough, their input can be important. However, there is no set age where a child can choose where he or she wants to live. Often, a Custody Evaluator will be the one to convey the child’s wishes and feelings to the Court.
2. Keep good records. Keeping a parenting time calendar can be very helpful in the event of a dispute over what the schedule is or has been. When possible, communicate in writing with the other parent. This creates a good record of your communication, and can help prevent angry outbursts. If child support is an issue, make sure any payments are made via check or through the Child Support Enforcement Agency.
3. Find positive support. Your children will take their cues from you, and if you’re a hot mess, they will be too. Make sure that you have trusted adults to talk to about what’s going on in the case so that you can be at your best when you’re with your children. Make time to care for yourself so that you can be strong and healthy throughout the court process. Seek neutral support for your children. The uncertainty that comes along with a custody case can be scary for them, too, and it is important for them to have a safe, neutral person to talk to about whatever they are feeling.
4. Live your life. Don’t put your life on hold because of a divorce or custody case. Custody cases can take many months (or even years) to complete, and the uncertainty can feel paralyzing at times. It’s also pretty scary thinking that everything that you do can be subject to review by a Judge or criticism by the other party. You and your children will fare better if you follow your normal, healthy routines.
“Each family’s circumstances are very different. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice, and if you have questions regarding a child custody matter, you should consult with a legal professional about the specific facts of your case.”