The divorce process can be mentally, physically and financially exhausting for the couples involved. And custody battles only make things harder. It is normal to be stressed and angry at your ex when your marriage is being dissolved. Knowing that you will get to see your child only on certain days a week can even leave you feeling frustrated and bitter.
Despite the situation, it is crucial to remain calm and composed when approaching a custody battle. Judges tend to carefully observe the conduct of each parent and focus on the best interests of the child when determining the terms of a custody agreement. Since your conduct can make or break your case, it is imperative to be on your best behavior at all times.
Kinds of Custody Orders
Most families are not well-versed with California Family Law. While it is not essential to have a full understanding of the law, there are a few important facts to consider.
There are two types of child custody orders under California Family Law, i.e. legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody gives the parent/s the right to make important decisions like the education, welfare and health care of the child. Physical custody decides which parent the child lives with.
Legal custody may be sole or joint. In sole custody, only one parent will be allowed to make important decisions for the child. Joint custody, on the other hand, distributes the responsibilities of the child to both parents.
Physical custody may also be sole or joint. In sole physical custody, the child lives with only one of the parents as determined by the court. In joint custody, the child shares their time with both parents. However, there will be one parent (called the primary custodian) with whom the child will spend more time than with the other.
Custody orders usually favor one parent because it is extremely difficult to divide the time exactly in half. However, it is not uncommon for both parents to retain equal rights and responsibilities if they can both satisfy the best interests of the child. To determine what works best for the child, the following factors will be considered by the court:
- The child’s age
- The child’s health
- The parents’ ability to care for the child
- The emotional bond between the child and the parents
- The child’s bond with their home, school and community
- Any history of substance or domestic abuse
Every parent fighting for the rights and responsibilities of their child want the best possible terms from a child custody battle. However, there are several things that can ruin your case if you are not careful. Here are some examples of what can be used against you in a custody battle.
11 Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Custody Battle
1. Reluctance to cooperate with your former partner
Most people find it hard to work harmoniously with their ex, but the court favors joint legal and physical custody. This makes it essential for both parents to settle their differences and work together for the benefit of the child. Refusal to cooperate with your ex can hurt your chances in court, even if you are convinced that you can single-handedly raise the child well.
It is important to think of your ex and yourself as teammates who are working towards a common goal – to give your child the best possible life. Even if you can no longer stand each other, the child must be your priority and you must act accordingly. Smooth cooperation between parents not only helps them raise the child better, but also makes it easier for the child to transition into a new way of living.
2. Showing up late or rescheduling appointments
If you are following a temporary custody agreement, those parental rights must be used to the fullest. Showing up late or rescheduling when it is your time to have the child shows the judge that your priorities are not in order. Since both parents have pre-determined hours with the child, failing to make the most of that time can show negligence and a lack of care.
Custody battles can be decided based on negligence, so it is important to honor the agreement and spend as much time as you can with your child. It doesn’t always have to be sunshine and rainbows. Even mundane activities like chores and homework with your child show that you are not just in it for the fun part. It shows that you are also interested in the not-so-glamorous part of parenting, and that can only help your cause.
3. Physical altercations
A physical assault on someone is a crime for which you can be put in jail. Even if your ex doesn’t press charges, hitting them or your child can significantly alter your image in front of the judge. The child custody battle can sway in your ex’s favor the moment the incident comes to light. Remember that if you have the tendency to be physically abusive, you have already lost the child custody battle.
Regardless of how upset or angry you become at any point, do not make physical contact with your former partner or child. If you have physically harmed your ex or child in the past, acknowledge your susceptibility to such behavior. If you must, walk away from the argument before it gets worse. Whether you are a man or a woman, if you have been physically assaulted by your ex, call the police immediately instead of retaliating.
Physical and domestic violence is a very serious matter and can pose developmental challenges to kids who witness it at an early age. Long-standing emotional problems are also a concern among such children. It is for this reason that judges are extremely intolerant towards domestic violence, making it crucial for parents to keep their heads at all times.
4. Verbal altercations
Yelling at your child or spouse is ill-advised. The situation in which you find yourself can be frustrating, especially during difficult conversations. If you find your temper rising, just leave the room. Step outside and calm yourself down before resuming the conversation. Remember that even one round of yelling and verbal aggression can make it seem like your temper is not under control, and that can hurt your case.
5. Alienation of affection
Criticizing the other parent in front of the child or keeping the child away from the other parent in any way can result in parental alienation. The damage caused by this sort of behavior is confusing and frustrating for the child, and judges are highly intolerant towards it. The child starts to feel contempt when one of them is constantly putting down the other. Always remember that attempting to damage your ex’s image or credibility will have a negative impact on your case.
6. Badmouthing your former partner (to anyone)
When your marriage is ending legally and you are facing a custody battle, badmouthing your former partner can be really easy. You may feel cheated and betrayed, or just angry and upset, but badmouthing your ex shows that you are still hurt. It also shows that you do not voluntarily want to work with your former partner with the best interests of your child in mind.
If it helps, assume that everything you mention about your ex is heard by the judge. Whatever you say to your closest friend in utmost confidence can be brought to light if they are subpoenaed at some point in the proceedings. Since children thrive in a household with both parents, it is crucial to show the court that you can put aside your hurt feelings and raise the child together with your ex.
7. Venting about your ex to your child
While badmouthing your former partner is ill-advised, it is even more important to avoid it with your child. Both parents are equally important to a child, and one parent badmouthing the other makes the child feel torn. They feel like they are forced to choose between their parents, making the whole legal process even more painful for them.
Since times are tough on your child, it is important to make sure that they have as little stress to deal with as possible. Your hurt feelings and anger towards your ex should not add to their worries. Moreover, court proceedings usually summon children to give their testimony during the child custody battle. So whatever you say to your child could very well reach the judge and turn the case in your ex’s favor.
8. Moving in with another partner
While divorce is hard on the parents, it is a particularly trying time for the child. Just grasping the fact that their parents no longer love each other and want to live separately is a challenge. Seeing a parent give that love to someone new makes it all the more difficult for the child to cope with things. Courts do not want a child to be exposed to their parents’ new partners while the divorce process is still in progress. It is better to wait till the legal matters have been resolved before introducing your new partner to your child.
9. Refusing to follow court orders
Failure to follow court orders can significantly hurt your case during a child custody battle. It shows the judge that you do not respect the laws that have been created to protect the best interests of your child. If you have been ordered to pay alimony or child support, it is crucial to make those payments in a timely manner. Failure to do so could see you declared in contempt of court, and that never goes down well.
On the other hand, diligently following the court’s orders will surely help your cause. Prioritizing the payments and ensuring that your child is always taken care of shows that you take your obligations seriously. As a result, the judge will have faith in your ability to raise the child and consider it when determining the outcome of the custody battle.
10. Denying contact with the other parent
Before the custody battle prescribes the days and hours you can spend with your child, you and your former spouse may already have a verbal agreement. Even if you have been allotted just a few hours a week with your child, you cannot deny them contact with your ex when they request it. Moreover, if your ex calls during your time with your child, you must be polite and let them speak to the child. Unless the child is sleeping or the call could cause some sort of disruption, you cannot deny contact between your ex and your child. The child must be free to communicate with both parents at all times.
11. Removing the child from daycare or school without notifying your ex
Very rarely do the designated parenting hours coincide with the child’s daycare or school time. You can meet the child freely for lunch or at other times if you are allowed to do so by the school, provided they are not distracted by it. Unless you are the primary custodian of the child, you should never remove them from daycare or school without informing your ex. Even primary custodians should not remove the child from daycare or school unless there is a good reason to do so.
Judges look at the child’s absences from daycare or school, and it reflects poorly on the parent under whose care they were tardy. In fact, removing your child from their educational institution when you are not the primary custodian can even be viewed as an act of kidnapping. This in turn can damage your case and result in major restrictions for your parenting time. Given the different types of mistakes that can affect your child custody battle, hiring an experienced Riverside family law attorney can make the process easier for you. Remember to always keep your child in mind, and let your lawyers worry about your custody battle.