Here is a list of 7 things that parents should avoid doing during a custody battle:
- Confronting the other parent or child (verbally or physically)
- Not communicating with the other parent
- Exposing the child and the other parent to a new relationship
- Condemning the other parent to family, friends, or in public
- Neglecting child support payments or other responsibilities
- Denying the other parent visitation rights
- Disrupting the child’s daily routine
Before awarding legal or physical custody, judges review many factors, including each parent’s behavior during the custody battle. Ultimately, courts base their ruling on the best interest of the child. Doing the following things can show a parent in a bad light (in connection with the custody battle) with the judge, and therefore, both parents should avoid doing them:
Confronting the Other Parent or Child (Verbally or Physically)
The post-separation period is traumatic and full of stress and anger. Either parent can lose her/his temper at the slightest of issues and enter into a heated argument with the other. Things get worse when verbal arguments take place in the presence of the child, or those arguments escalate to a physical fight.
Physical fights, including damage to either parent’s separate property or common marital property, are viewed very seriously by judges, and the parent who triggers the fight can even lose custody. Things can get worse if the judge orders placement of the child in foster care because parents abuse or neglect their child. Physical fights can also lead to a parent filing for a protective order/restraining order, which if granted, can make co-parenting, i.e., sharing physical or legal custody, extremely difficult.
Likewise, either parent should avoid getting into an argument with the child or badmouthing the other parent to the child or in public.
In cases where the court finds it difficult to decide on legal or physical custody, the judge can order an evaluator to interview the child and review the feedback, which can significantly influence the judge’s decision.
Not Communicating with the Other Parent
An unwillingness of either parent to communicate with the other about their child and his/her welfare can make the judge view the non-communicating parent in a bad light. Judges expect parents to keep all lines of communication open, have an open mind, be flexible, cooperate, and come to an agreement in all child-related matters, unless any interaction with the other parent can prove dangerous for the child. Of course, if one parent is the victim of domestic violence, any judge will understand why that person doesn’t want to interact with his/her abuser.
If a parent has to take the children to another state or some other location in the same state for a few nights or an extended period, she/he should let the other parent know about the schedule. Every parent has the right to know the whereabouts of his children, and withholding such information can weaken a custody case.
Exposing the Child and the Other Parent to a New Relationship
After filing for a divorce, people like to move on. They may move around in social circles or browse dating websites to find a new partner. However, it’s best that during the separation and divorce process, both parents should keep the child and the other parent away from the new partner. This is because the new relationship can not only confuse the child but also cause unnecessary emotional complications in the other spouse that may make negotiations needlessly difficult. For example, if the other parent comes to know of the new relationship and manages to prove that it can interfere with the first parent’s child care capabilities, the court can take a serious view of the matter. Also, some states consider adultery before deciding on child custody or visitation rights. In Utah, adultery really only affects child custody and parent-time when the adultery somehow impairs the parent’s behavior and markedly decreases a parent’s capability of caring for the child.
Condemning the Other Parent in Social Circles
Though divorce may be mutual and friendly, bitterness can linger for a while depending upon how long the couple was together. Criticizing or badmouthing an about-to-be-divorced spouse to friends, family, or on social media, comes naturally to many people. If word gets around, and the other parent takes offense and calls for the badmouthing partner to testify under oath, then things can take a turn for the worse in a custody battle.
Neglecting Child Support Payments or Other Responsibilities
A parent must not miss out on paying child support payments as the divorce proceedings continue. It doesn’t matter whether the agreed sum was mutually decided by the parents or ordered by the court. If a parent fails to pay court-ordered child support, it amounts to contempt of court. If she/he fails to honor a mutually agreed child support payment, it tends to prove that she/he is an irresponsible parent, which makes custody harder to get.
Other responsibilities of parents while the court decides on custody include honoring child visitation obligations, avoiding things that may negatively impact the child, and fulfilling the child’s legitimate wishes. Any neglect of such responsibilities is viewed negatively by the court.
Denying the Other Parent Visitation Rights
Denying the other parent’s court-ordered visitation rights amounts to contempt of court. The court can then even review its original award of child custody, placement, and visitation rights if either parent is found guilty of contempt of court. Even if there is not a court order, denying a parent reasonable time with his/her child is viewed very negatively by the court.
Disrupting the Child’s Daily Routine
Divorce is tough on the child. It can upset the child’s routine, and parents are expected to do their best to ensure that the child’s daily routine is maintained as far as possible. Examples of daily routine include school, sports, extra-curricular activities, etc.
The court expects that either parent will not schedule anything that disturbs the child’s routine without informing the other parent or obtaining her/his consent. Any action to the contrary, by any parent, can harm the custody case.
Before signing off, here are some more don’ts based on our firm’s experience:
- Don’t lie to the judge.
- Don’t behave irresponsibly.
- Don’t be negligent in responding to the other parent’s court filing.
- Don’t be a jerk to the other parent.
- Don’t abuse drugs, prescriptions, or alcohol.
- Don’t be aggressive and force a trial without trying to negotiate/compromise.
- Don’t be unprepared in court.
- Don’t skip evidence.
- Don’t behave badly in court.
- Don’t defy the court (by neglecting or disregarding its orders).