Divorce can be devastating to all members of your family. Things are even more complicated and become far more emotional when children are involved. A relationship with both parents is important when raising a child regardless of whether the parents are together or separated.
Oftentimes, fathers’ custody rights are overlooked. Fathers have historically been regarded as the less important parent as it relates to raising children. The stereotype that children need their mothers more than their fathers is a difficult one to overcome if you are a father in the midst of a child custody battle. In order to have equal footing in custody litigation, fathers need to be involved in their children’s lives and should be well versed in the following information.
First, any parent seeking full or joint custody needs to be able to show the court that they are actually involved in their child’s life. This means knowing some very simple and basic information that may get overlooked in the storm of difficulty and confusion that a parent can feel when going through a divorce.
Can you answer these questions?
- What is your child’s favorite food?
- When was your child’s last doctor’s appointment?
- What is your child’s teacher’s name?
- Who is your child’s best friend?
Are you doing these things with your child?
- Taking your child to school, the doctor, church, sports, etc.
- Visiting your child’s school for parent-teacher conferences, other school activities, field trips, meetings, lunches, etc.
- Attending child’s sporting events
- Having family dinners with your child
- Signing child’s homework, agendas, report cards, etc.
- Knowing your child’s friends and their families
- Knowing your child’s coaches or club leaders
Second, a parent needs to protect his or her own interests when involved in a custody battle. Litigation is an adversarial process and should be treated as such, unless there are realistic intentions of settlement from both sides. You need to protect yourself from being deemed the “bad guy” in court. Therefore, it is important to avoid making mistakes that could be devastating to you in court.
- Communicate with the other parent in writing whenever possible. Email is the best way to save conversations for future use in court. Be sure not to write anything that could be deemed as mean, manipulative, degrading or aggressive toward the other parent. Always limit your conversations to issues regarding your child. Be diplomatic and reasonable. Always assume that no matter what you write in an email or text message, the other parent will print and bring to court. You should also assume that any phone calls will be recorded, so apply these same rules to your phone conversations.
- Make sure your child is taken to school on time. School attendance and tardiness are big issues for a lot of judges. It is important that you get your child to school on time when your child is in your care. If your child is sick or unable to be on time to school, make sure you document the reasons and save copies.
- Stay organized. Keep a file folder for all issues regarding your divorce. Separate the issues into categories and use a separate folder for each– for example, child custody, child support, alimony, etc. Save and print any emails, texts or social media posts from the other parent that could likely help you in court. Keep detailed notes relating to important dates, times and locations regarding your children and the other parent.
- Exhibit appropriate courtroom behavior. Always be respectful to everyone in court. Do not give the judge a reason not to like you. If you fly off the handle or get into an emotional rage, the judge can consider that in relation to your ability to parent. Being condescending, a bully or otherwise mean to the other parent in court could create sympathy for that person. No matter how you feel about the other parent, that is your child’s parent and a court will frown upon any negative behavior. Let your lawyer do the fighting. It is your job to be the reasonable parent.
- Post on social media. Never post anything about your child custody battle on social media . . . EVER! If you can avoid social media completely, that would be ideal. Social media can be a blessing and a curse. The first thing most good lawyers advise their clients to do is to take down and stop posting on social media and check the opposing party’s social media posts.
- Disparage your former spouse. Never disparage or degrade the other parent in front of or to your child. This is not only harmful to your child, but will also not be taken lightly by the court. It is extremely difficult to keep negative feelings inside during a custody battle, but you should never voice those feelings to your child. Also, do not use your child as a tool to get information about the other parent or as leverage against the other party.
- Stress. This is an emotional and difficult time. Let your lawyer handle the legal battle. Try to find an outlet to relieve stress and focus on your children.