Divorce can be incredibly messy. After all, two people are dealing with issues in their relationship. It can involve years of resentment and anger, further complicated by the fact that the pair used to (or, in a handful of cases, still do) love each other. It’s no wonder that the energy between them can be hostile.
Things can get messier when children are involved. After all, both parents want custody of their children and may both think that their little ones are better of with them rather than the other parent. Even worse, some may even use custody as a means of “getting revenge” on the other parent, and thus the fight may escalate into a tooth-and-nail extension of the relationship issues.
This is not to say, of course, that parents aren’t capable of having calm agreements about their kids during a divorce. For some, it’s entirely possible. After all, many do manage to be calm, rational adults even through this emotional situation. But, as they say, it takes two to tango. If even one parent isn’t on board with joint custody or settling matters peacefully, then the entire family is in for a bumpy ride.
When it comes to this, parents need to be careful with what they do. After all, the act of granting custody to one parent or the other can be a tricky thing. Sometimes even things that they don’t quite believe can be damaging can eventually cause them both to lose their children.
Here’s a 101 on some of the things that parents in the midst of divorce might want to watch out for.
15 Punishing The Kids
Discipline is an important part of parenting. After all, someone has got to teach the child right and wrong, good and bad. But it’s still best for each parent to take a look into how they do so. After all, sometimes there’s just a fine line between discipline for the children and what can be considered child abuse. One bad move could be grounds for a parent completely losing custody over the child, especially if other people have witnessed the punishment.
If hitting is part of the regular parenting strategy, therefore, now is a good time to take a step back and look at how it can affect each parent’s relationship with the child. It’s also good to remember that there are, after all, alternative methods to discipline that don’t require physical punishment. Do also consider that, even in the absence of hitting, dishing out words that berate the child can also be used against a parent.
14 Hitting The Partner
In the last, dying stages of the relationship prior to the divorce, things might get highly emotional. Fights might get extra heated, and even adults can fall into the trap of their emotions. Those who have particular trouble with self-control in the heat of the moment might find themselves throwing stuff, perhaps even hitting their soon-to-be-ex-partner. Again, it’s best to think about the implications when this happens. For one thing, it’s extremely important to have basic respect for every human being, especially when it’s one’s own partner. Displaying the tendency for domestic abuse could be enough grounds for any court to deny a parent custody of the child.
The best thing to do is to learn to manage one’s anger. Even if some may consider this “normal” for their relationship, it can actually be a toxic recipe for dysfunction. If anything, think of the child. It’s not just custody that is at risk. The child may also learn violent methods of dealing with anger from this example.
13 Taking The Child Without Asking
Most parents like spending time with their children. In the middle of a messy divorce, it can be tempting to just whisk the child away on a mini-vacation. You know, parent-and-child time. This could be anything from a camping trip, to a getaway to Disney World, or just a visit to the state fair. Keep in mind, however, that it’s important to have the other parent’s permission before doing so. Taking the child without even informing them can have serious implications when the case comes to court.
It helps to try to talk about an equitable way that each parent can spend time with the kids. It might be useful to think about it as kind-of practice for when the pair will have to deal with joint custody. We know it can be a pain to have to get permission for every single thing, but parenting is often a partnership.
12 Not Consulting The Other Parent
Partnership isn’t just about where each parent takes their children. Often, it’s also about other decisions that affect the child’s well-being. Whether this is buying the child a new game console or, in Mrs. Doubtfire fashion, throwing a huge party for them without the other parent’s approval, it can definitely result in the court judge shaking his head over one’s ability to parent.
It’s therefore best to wait until the court has ironed out all the details of custody. After this, each parent may be able to have some degree of independence in how to raise their child, although for major decisions, it will still remain largely consultative. It can be tempting, for some, to defy the other parent’s authority. But, keep in mind, this could come at the cost of losing custody of the little one. During this critical period, it’s therefore best to just play it safe and not feed the fire.
11 Accusing The Other Parent Of Abuse
So if domestic abuse is a surefire way to lose custody, then it might make sense for some to accuse the other parent of it in court. That way, they get the children, right? Well, this will only work if the abuse has actually happened. If the allegations are made up and the court finds out about this, the tables will be turned against the accusing parent.
Incidentally, this is a common strategy for some parents, particularly those with narcissistic tendencies, to paint a picture of themselves as martyrs and of the other as the abuser. However, this doesn’t always work. And even when it does, the implications will be so clear in how the accuser deals with the children that the court is likely to grant custody back to the other parent. So if abuse is part of one parent’s strategy to gain custody, it had better be true.
10 Preventing The Other Parent From Seeing The Child
If one parent is no longer living in the house, it can be tempting to just keep them from seeing the little one. In some cases, this can be purely out of spite. After all, it can be frustrating for one’s kids to have to deal with someone that one no longer wants in their life. But such spite can be used against the parent in court, especially if there is no apparent reason to keep the children away. In fact, this can be considered as a form of child abuse. After all, just because the parents are not getting along is not reason enough to completely break a child’s relationship with the other parent.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. If the other parent is abusive, then it makes perfect sense to keep the little one away from them. It’s not worth building a relationship with someone that will only hurt them.
9 Leaving The Child Home Alone
In some alternate universe where Kevin McAllister’s parents were going through a divorce, we’re willing to bet that half the court battles would be deciding whose fault it was, exactly, that he was left home alone. Five times, too. This is because leaving a child home alone can be used in court as a count of neglectful parenting. As one can imagine, this does not bode well for someone who is trying to get custody of the children.
Incidentally, however, many parents do leave their children alone at times. When the child is asleep and the parents just need to run out for a quick errand, it might seem like too much trouble to have to wake them up just because nobody is home. Granted, this can make it tough on parents who are juggling errands, a career and raising the kids. But when the courts are watching, it’s best to be cautious and leaving a child alone is never a good idea, ever.
8 An Improper Diet
Adulting is hard. If we lived alone, many of us would resort to takeout and microwave dinners most of our lives because sometimes it can be difficult to find time to cook with all the other stuff we have to do. But kids need good nutrition. And despite the claims of many instant food products in the market nowadays, nothing beats freshly prepared home-cooked meals. After all, it’s pretty much the only way that parents can know exactly what’s going on in their kids’ tummies.
If a parent resorts to feeding the kids nothing but processed stuff all day, every day, they might risk losing custody of their kids. Especially if a certain someone else manages to convince the court that they’re able to make the little ones good old casseroles and fresh salad every day. It may seem like a petty thing to bring to court, but it does matter.
7 Unkempt Children
Like it or not, whenever the court or social workers have to see the children, they’re going to make instant judgments about how they look. A child whose hair is matted, who looks like he hasn’t had a bath in weeks, and whose clothes are soiled is not going to look like a child who is well taken care of. And we all know what courts do when they figure that one person is unable to take care of their child.
Now, we know it can be a difficult thing to keep track of. After all, children will be children. They’ll run around, play, get dirty and, sometimes, end up looking like a complete mess even if it’s only been a couple of hours since their last bath. Some sympathetic people who also have children might understand this. But, just in case, the kids should at least look like someone actually cares about how they look.
It’s not just the kids’ appearances that the court is going to judge when deciding on custody issues. Chances are, they’re also going to take a look at how the parents look. And like it or not, they will have an opinion about which parent looks like he or she has got their life together. This can, of course, put a lot of strain on parents who put effort into parenting. After all, it’s not like one can look like the perfect icon of adulthood when they have to run after a bunch of preschoolers all day.
So to be sure, parents who want to keep custody of their kids should make an effort to look presentable on days where they have to make court appearances or when the social workers come to visit. This may not make a world of difference, but it’ll at least earn the parent a few points in their favor.
5 Unsafe Living Spaces
One of the surprising things that can count against a parent trying to gain custody of their children is where they live. A parent who lives in a place that might be risky for the kids might have that held against him or her when it comes to custody. This can include a neighborhood that is prone to crime. Or, perhaps, if the building that the parent is living in isn’t built to standard specifications to combat against natural disasters such as flood or earthquake, the court could deem it dangerous for the kids to live there. If the other parent, therefore, lives in a more favorable location, they might have a better chance of getting more custody over the kids.
As such, it’s best to have someone experienced in safety and mitigation to come look at the living space. They could make suggestions that can reduce risks. A disaster preparedness plan, particularly for areas prone to flood, might also come in helpful.
4 Substance Abuse
A history of use of drugs, alcohol or even cigarettes can all be deemed as counts against a parent in court. This is especially if it comes with a history of erratic behavior following the use of these substances. After all, many cases of domestic abuse and even neglect do stem from alcoholism or drug abuse. In the case of cigarettes, smoking around the kids can definitely raise eyebrows in court. As such, parents who use these as coping mechanisms might not be granted custody over their kids. A repeat history of abuse, in particular, won’t look all too good.
For parents who have a history of this and whose partners use this against them in court, it will help to have documents, health records and testimony from family and friends of sobriety. But if it’s a present problem, it’s probably best to start rehabilitation as soon as possible. It’s probably best for the children’s well-being overall, anyway, to stay sober.
3 Psychiatric History
Sadly, parents who have a history of psychiatric illness might find it difficult to keep custody over their children. While, in some cases, this can be done for the benefit of the kids, not all persons with mental illness are necessarily bad parents. After all, people who suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression often still manage to perform their parental duties and raise happy kids, especially with the right support system. What’s more, taking the kids abruptly can lead to a breakdown in neurotypical people. One can only imagine the devastation it can bring in someone with a mental condition.
If this is used against a parent in court, it’s best to come prepared. Medical records, perhaps a statement from a doctor, and other proof that mental illness is no hindrance to good parenting can all help. It can be an uphill battle if the ex is adamant on getting full custody of the kids. But, with luck, it will work out.
2 Military Service
While it’s always important to appreciate the military for their service to the country, the sacrifices they have to make for that can be pretty steep. When it comes to divorce, things can get really stressful. Consider, for instance, the fact that courts are obliged to grant custody to the parent who is present most of the time. As one might imagine, that’s not exactly going to be in the favor of one who is currently in military service, especially if the ex is a civilian.
And this can be a difficult thing to beat, even if the parent in the military has family members who can look after the child. Courts will be reluctant to separate the child from both parents. One of the best things to do is to negotiate an arrangement that gives the child plenty of quality time with the parent in the military when he or she is around.
One of the emerging reasons why courts might grant one parent custody over the other is career. This has especially affected women, who are traditionally given the children to raise. Now that women often have bustling careers of their own, the custody playing ground has evened out. Many men now gain custody over their children, instead, if they are able to prove that they will be able to give more time to the little ones than their ex-wife.
This is why, in the midst of a divorce, it’s important for parents to check the time that they spend with their kids. Not giving their kids enough time of day may not be favorable for them. This is even when they’re working for their children’s own good! It might be best, then, to improve the relationship with the little ones. Better yet, iron out an arrangement with the ex that allows both to have decent careers and ample time with family!
Sources: Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com, DailyMail.co.uk, Parents.com, AttachmentParenting.org