While a custody decision is often based on your past actions and relationship with your children, that doesn't mean your present actions won't affect the outcome.
Divorce is one of those stressful life events that can change someone's typical behavior. Some people act out aggressively, others develop dependencies, some withdraw entirely and many put their best foot forward. In any hearing or negotiation, you want to represent yourself in the best possible light. That's especially important when child custody is on the line. After all, custody decisions are based on what is in the best interests of the child.
These behaviors can jeopardize your custody case:
1. Putting your children in the middle
It's important to have honest conversations with your children, but never at the expense of your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Conversations need to focus on the child's needs. Keep any opinion, blame or frustration to yourself.
2. Withholding parent-time or child support
Using your child to get back at your spouse can significantly affect the outcome of your case and lead to serious consequences. Now is not the time to retaliate against your spouse. Instead, try to keep your children's needs front-and-center.
3. Letting your emotions get out of control
You are undoubtedly going through an emotional rollercoaster. Yet, to show the judge that you are fit for custody, you need to maintain control of your emotions. This means no angry voicemails or text messages, and no threats or unwarranted allegations. It goes without saying that you should also be professional in the courtroom. Obviously, don't raise your voice or attack the other parent in front of the judge, but also refrain from shaking your head or making any faces, however seemingly benign.
4. Abusing alcohol or drugs
Pop culture glamorizes the traumatic bender, following bad news with a downtrodden binge and bottomless bottle. No matter how emotionally challenging a divorce, it's always essential to represent your parental fortitude first, just as if the kids were in your care already.
5. Sharing too much on social media
It only takes one poorly phrased Facebook post to set off a firestorm that keeps burning. Even if you keep your Facebook private, you inevitably have common friends with your ex, and screenshots and shares can make the most private comment public in ways you didn't intend. Social media posts can even make their way into the courtroom. It's best to stay off Facebook during the duration of your divorce or custody case.
6. Racking up debt
A common response when a divorce looms is to do something vindictive. Don't spend money from a joint account, and don't buy items that you can't afford. Again, when custody is the goal, you need to show that you'll be a caregiver and provider instead of a frivolous shopper who acts out of spite.
7. Not cooperating with the other parent
Parents who can show that they are able to cooperate tend to see more favorable custody orders. Sit down with the other parent and make a plan for how you will share time with your children over the next few months. Then, make sure to work with the other parent if you want to take the children out of school or go on a trip. If there are important decisions to make regarding your children (such as their education or healthcare), make them together. Now is the time to set a positive tone for a working relationship you will need to maintain for years to come.
Putting Your Kids First
The custody decision is based, in part, on your capability to provide a loving and stable home for your kids. Constancy is important for children through the transition. There will be immense change for everyone, but as your children's potential caretaker, you need to be the bridge through this life event. Divorce is hard, but losing control never makes the situation better.
Getting lost in your own emotions or focusing too heavily on moving your own personal life forward can have negative effects on the children. The best way to win a custody battle is to show an ability to understand the situation and to prove to the court that you are the parent who is most capable of putting the children's needs first.