Divorce is hardly ever easy, but it can be especially difficult when children are involved. Most parents wonder if the divorce will negatively affect their children, particularly if the former spouses have such severe communication difficulties they can’t negotiate custody of the children outside of court. However, taking a few steps during this stressful time might make your kids happier and your court proceedings shorter.
Here are 10 tips for how to protect the best interests of your children during a child custody dispute:
- Find an excellent child custody lawyer. This step is probably one of the most important you will take in pursuing a child custody case. A good child custody lawyer will tell you exactly what an average custody battle looks like, what will be expected of you, and give you tips on how to improve your chances of winning custody.
- Talk to your kids. If you want to ensure your children remain emotionally healthy during this time, talk to them. It’s imperative they know that this custody battle isn’t their fault and that any animosity or ill-feeling between you and your ex-spouse has nothing to do with them. Make sure they understand these court proceedings will ultimately be in their best interest because their well-being is the determining factor in custody hearings.
- Don’t badmouth your ex. Though it might be difficult to keep from detailing all your ex’s flaws to the world, talking badly about them reflects poorly on you. This step is particularly important if you’re talking to or around your kids. Children will repeat what you’ve said to your ex and the judge if they’re asked. Even if your former spouse is making your life difficult by challenging your parental rights, you will look like the bigger person if you speak about him or her in a neutral way. If you can’t manage to speak well of him or her, at least refrain from speaking of them in anger.
- Be civil. People divorce for a reason. Though some divorces are extremely civil, they can also bring out the worst in people. No matter how your spouse behaves toward you, remain calm and stay polite. Your level-headedness will work in your favor in court. Courteous behavior between parents will also reduce the emotional trauma to your kids. Watching parents fight can be one of the scariest things to a child, so ensuring your children don’t see you fight starts with your treatment of your former spouse.
- Follow the law. If you’re in a custody battle, nothing will lose you custody faster than committing a crime and getting arrested. The judge who oversees your case will look at all factors, including the criminal history of both parents. If the judge sees you’re incapable of following the law even when your children are at stake, he or she will count it as a mark against you. To the judge, these types of actions demonstrate impulsivity and a lack of good judgment, attributes that don’t contribute to the well-being of your children.
- Stay off social media. All too often, people rely on social media as a method to vent anger. People post long rants on Facebook or short, pithy comments on Twitter deriding their spouse or cursing out the judge or court system. This public display of anger does nothing good for your image in the eyes of the court. If you say something negative on social media, your spouse’s lawyer can use it against you as evidence of a foul temper or poor judgment. Posting selfies that reveal poor habits, such as drinking or doing drugs, can also be used as evidence you’re an unfit parent and should get no contact with your kids.
- Follow any court-issued temporary orders. During custody proceedings, the court may temporarily decide custody until the actual custody hearing has been finalized. For example, the court could rule that, for now, the child or children will live with one parent for one week and the other parent for another week. If you keep your kids for, let’s say, a week and one day, you violated the temporary order. Violating the rules will demonstrate to the judge you have little respect for court proceedings or court authority, and he or she will likely rule against you.
- Gather evidence. Do you have proof you’re a good parent? Your lawyer will probably ask this of you when you speak to him or her, but beginning to gather evidence before even seeing a lawyer will save you time later. By evidence, the lawyer might mean pictures of you and your kids together. Many people take photos of their children, but pictures that show you spending quality time with your kids could be advantageous in court. You might want to ask friends and family if they can talk to the court about how they’ve seen you be a good parent to your kids.
- Assess and remedy your weaknesses. Everyone has flaws; it’s part of being human. We may not always be aware of what those flaws are, however. To head off an argument from your ex-spouse about what your flaws are and how they might negatively affect your children, examine yourself as objectively as you can. What are your main weaknesses? Are they emotional shortcomings? Physical? Do you work too much? Are you often unemployed? Think about how these flaws might be perceived by the judge and attempt to fix some of them. For example, if you tend to drink too much, lay off the alcohol or join an addiction program (such as Alcoholics Anonymous). Efforts made to improve yourself for the sake of your kids can be seen by the judge as a good sign you’re a fit parent.
- Dress appropriately for court. You don’t have to wear a tailored, three-piece suit or fancy dress to attend court, but making an effort to appear put-together and responsible will show you have good judgment in the eyes of the court. You may not care how other people view your dressing habits, but others do care how you present yourself. Showing you can dress for the occasion means you’ve considered self-presentation, which is an indication of thoughtfulness and careful planning.
If you’re facing a custody battle, make sure you have the best legal representation. Contact Boudreaux Hunter & Associates, LLC today to speak to one of our Houston child custody lawyers about your case.