Ten Common Mistakes That Hurt Your Child Custody Case
For couples going through a divorce, perhaps the most emotionally difficult part is agreeing on the custody arrangement for the children.
Judges and Courts in Georgia make custody determinations based on the best interests of the child or children, and are frequently aided by guardian ad litems, the court-appointed representatives for the children. In Georgia, parents typically share joint legal custody of the children under Georgia law, and may have a primary/secondary physical custody arrangement or share physical custody equally.
Generally speaking, the court wants to see that you are a parent who prioritizes your children’s best interests, regardless of the feelings you may have towards your former spouse. However, if you let your emotions get the best of you and engage in a blame game with your ex-spouse, you can jeopardize your chances of obtaining an advantageous custody agreement.
Top Custody Negotiation Mistakes
Here are 10 of the most consequential mistakes that you can make when negotiating your custody arrangement:
Perhaps the biggest error is trying to manipulate your children into choosing sides. You should never put your children in the middle of your conflict.
Courts frown on situations in which one parent undermines the other parent’s relationship with the children. Therefore, you should not discuss your ex-spouse’s personal life and finances with your children. Nor should you argue about the divorce in front of the children if both sides are still living together.
- Lack of Cooperation and Communication
Courts have real concerns about giving primary custody to a parent who won’t cooperate or communicate with the other side. If one parent unilaterally makes decisions in an attempt to appear to be the primary decision-maker, that behavior can hurt his or her custody request.
Courts want to see that you can co-parent effectively, especially when it comes to joint custody. Even if you have primary custody, you still have to consult with the other parent, so it is important to be able to show the court that you can communicate effectively with the other parent regarding decisions pertaining to your children.
- Disparaging Your Ex-Spouse to Others
Be careful what you say about your former spouse to others. A bad spouse does not equal a bad parent in the eyes of the court. Belittling or defamatory comments about your ex-husband or ex-wife could come back to hurt you. Keep in mind all the people who could be interviewed by the court or guardian ad litem. These include family members such as grandparents, babysitters and even teachers who can testify as to what you told them.
Be particularly careful not to criticize the other parent in front of the children – even if what you say is true.
- Moving Out of the Marital Residence
While each situation is different, a parent moving out of the home can prove detrimental to his or her custody case if a custody arrangement is not in place prior to the relocation. By the same token, leaving the home with the children without the consent of your spouse can also hurt your custody case.
If the living environment is too toxic, then you may need to remove yourself. Remember, before there is a temporary custody order in place, both parents are entitled to visitation with the children. To the extent that separate households are necessary, get a custody arrangement in place as soon as possible to prevent contentious scenes.
- Not Spending Time with the Kids When There is a New Partner
Courts will closely scrutinize situations where there is a temporary custody order and one parent jumps into a new relationship. The court wants to make sure that a parent isn’t more focused on the new relationship or trying to introduce this person to the children when the divorce has just been filed.
- Mean Text Messages
The court or guardian ad litem will examine the communications history between the parties, including email and text messages on your phones. Putting down your partner in a text message or making threats will hurt your case.
- Malicious Social Media
There has been a rise in the last two to five years of social media posts becoming part of the record in custody disputes. Again, avoid impugning the reputation of your former spouse. This includes disparaging the other party’s parenting or discussing the divorce online. If you have a large number of mean tweets or other social media posts, you cannot delete the material once the divorce and custody case is filed. You will have to explain why you posted those comments or images and say that you now understand that it was a mistake to do so.
- Not Keeping Records
During a contested custody case, we often recommend that clients take detailed notes of what his or her former spouse is doing because it may prove relevant when negotiating temporary custody schedules that are in place. This can be significant if your ex-spouse is not spending his or her allotted time with the children. Keep a record that shows the date and time of an event that shows inappropriate behavior of your ex-spouse or inadequate time with the children. You should also document your positive interactions with your children.
- Ignoring Court Orders or Withholding Visitation
You cannot make your own custody arrangement when it comes to visitation. Even if you think the other side is a bad parent, withholding visitation is never a good decision.
As a result, parents who willfully disregard a court order could be held in contempt, which can result in losing visitation rights or custody altogether. In the most egregious cases, those who violate orders could face jail time.
- Not Consulting with a Family Law Attorney
Find a qualified attorney early in the process. Remember every text message, email and what you may have said to others in all forums might be brought up in court. That’s why having legal representation is essential.
The bottom line is that an experienced family law attorney will help you show the court that you are a conscientious parent who will put aside your own needs and personal feelings in favor of the best interests of your children.
Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery welcomes the opportunity to learn about your legal needs and provide more detail on what services we offer. For more information about how Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery can help you, please contact us by filling out a form or give us a call at 770.953.4300.