In my book, Graceful Divorce Solutions, A Comprehensive and Proactive Guide to Saving You Time, Money, and Your Sanity, I talk in detail about how litigation often turns into a legal “vortex”—a whirling mass, into which anything caught in the motion is drawn. And when your case gets caught up in this “whirling mass,” it takes on a life of it’s own.
And so it goes with a custody battle. A court-fought custody battle is rarely, if ever, in your children’s best interests. Here’s why:
- You and your lawyer can’t pick your judge.
- Not every judge will deal with your parenting issues the same way.
- Judges make decisions about your children and your life without really knowing you and based on little information. All they know about you is what they hear from the time you walk into the courtroom until you walk out. Do you really want to give this person the power to decide where your children wake up on Christmas morning?
- The judge might not decide conclusively. Instead, she may ask you and your spouse to come back to court later to review how things are going. Having future court hearings hanging over your head is extremely stressful for everyone involved, especially the children.
- The judge might make a decision totally at odds with your goals. How will you feel if you don’t get what you want or the judge doesn’t pay attention to evidence you think is important?
I realize not everyone can sit down and get a cooperative parenting plan
with the other parent, but it’s vital for parents to have realistic expectations about how a custody battle will impact their family. No matter how strongly a parent feels they are doing the right thing, children suffer when their parents fight over them.
I often serve as a Guardian ad litem for children in contested custody cases, and what I always hear from the children is, “I just want Mom and Dad to stop fighting,” and “I just wish Mom and Dad would be nice to each other.” They get to where they accept that Mom and Dad are getting divorced, and they can live with that, but when there is anger, animosity, and relentless hostility, they feel that and it hurts them.
In one case the father was so angry at the mother for leaving him, he would not speak to her, respond to emails, or acknowledge her presence if they were at the same school event. The child was suffering because of this. She was desperately trying to maintain a relationship with both her parents, but when she was with her dad, it was like her mother didn’t exist. Despite encouragement from the child’s counselor that he put aside his anger and resentment for the sake of his child and at least act civilly toward the Mom for the child’s benefit, he could not do it. And the fact that his child was suffering was not enough to get him to change. As the counselor told him, he needed to figure out how to love his child more than he hated his ex-wife.
Don’t let this be you, and don’t let this happen to your children. Figure out how to get out of your own way and put your children’s needs and interests above your own, even if it means swallowing your wounded pride and hurt feelings. You and your spouse may be ending your marital relationship, but you will continue as parents of your children forever.