If you and your ex are fighting about custody, chances are you are doing so because one or both of you does something that puts your kids wellbeing at risk. Whether it is a struggle about alienation, alcohol, mental illness, drugs, neglect, questionable decision making, or general fitness for parenthood, things are going to get messy. And while everyone’s lives are messy to some degree, when you are in the middle of a custody battle, your mess gets put under a microscope.
Here are some things it is wise to avoid doing if you want to keep your kids:
- Drugs. If you have a drug habit (whether it is pills, pot, meth, or anything in between), chances are your ex suspects it. Even if they don’t suspect it, it is certainly an easy allegation to make. Parties in custody battles are often made to submit to drug or alcohol tests. If you suspect your ex is using drugs and want to have them tested, chances are you will be tested too. Judges do not like the idea of awarding custody to a parent with a drug habit. Do whatever you need to do to stay clean. And stay clean.
- Alcohol. Like drug use, alcohol abuse causes judges to question your ability to care for kids, especially if there is a history of DWIs or alcohol related incidents. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t get into alcohol fueled fights. Don’t drink around your kids. Be smart. If you need help staying sober, get help. And stay sober.
- Exposing Kids to New Lovers. When your kids are with you, be with your kids. Give them the attention they crave and make them feel how much you love them. If you have a new lover, keep it to yourself. Be discerning about the people you allow in your child’s life. Make sure they aren’t a sex offender, drug user, alcoholic, or a criminal. And exercise discretion before introducing your kids to someone new. Don’t allow them to spend the night while your kids are over. Don’t bring them to soccer games. Don’t bring them to mediation or court. Why? Because it invites unnecessary commentary and conflict. It isn’t worth it. Wait until your relationship is legally recognized (i.e., marriage).
- Refusing Visitation/Not Exercising Visitation. Be reasonable and respectful. Abide by your Orders. If you are given the opportunity to see your kids, see them. If your kid’s other parent wants to spend time with their kid, let them. If you have a legitimate concern about the safety of the visits, tell your attorney. An emergency order requiring supervised visitations, or drug testing prior to visitation periods might be appropriate.
- Posting on Social Media. Did you have a great day in court? Did you have a terrible day in court? Did your ex make some boneheaded decision? Did you get really plastered last-night? The world does not need to know about it. Do not post about it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or whatever social media platform you favor. Do not give that gift to your ex. That being said, you are under an obligation not to delete incriminating photos, posts, tweets, or other types of evidence. That is called spoliation and it is a big no-no. Don’t delete things. But don’t make them either. Do yourself a favor and just deactivate/disable (do not delete!) your accounts and enjoy a social media holiday.
- Emotional/Angry/Hateful Text Messages, Emails, Phone Calls. If you are in a custody battle, you are probably experiencing a whole new spectrum ofemotions. That is typical and normal and expected. However, you need to process those emotions in a healthy, non-destructive way. Perhaps you take up painting, running, yoga, or kick-boxing. Perhaps you confide in a trusted friend, counselor, spiritual advisor, or family member. Do everything you can to tame your anger so you do not end up sending regrettable text messages, emails, phone calls, Facebook messages, or the like. You do not want to create a record of your darkest thoughts, especially if that record is sent to your ex. Before you hit send, imagine the judge reading it.
- Exposing Kids to Discussions about Fault, Blame, Hate. Divorce and custody issues are stressful for the parties, but they are even more confusing and potentially devastating for the kids involved. Kids need to know that they are loved, that they are important, and that they are going to be okay. Kids do not need to know that their lives are in turmoil because Daddy couldn’t keep it in his pants, or because Mommy couldn’t stop using drugs. If you try to convince your kids that the other parent is a bad person, your kids will resent you later on. Be keenly aware of how you interact with your co-parent, and how you refer to the co-parent while in the presence of your kid.