In a child custody case, the primary goal is to determine what’s in the best…
Keeping Your Composure in a High-Conflict Child Custody Battle
Divorce is rarely, if ever, without conflict, particularly when the custody of minor children is at stake. It is useful to remember that divorce may solve relationship problems but also creates new challenges with co-parenting in separate homes. While it is achievable to create harmony for the children when structuring two households, a high-conflict spouse can derail the best of intentions regarding the welfare of your children. However, there are some strategies you can use to keep your composure during the case.
Determine Your Priorities
Prioritizing your children’s material (housing, clothing, etc.), psychological, and emotional needs is paramount. As a parent, protecting your minor children from the emotional rollercoaster of divorce is job number one. Children come first, and it is the court’s priority when determining parental rights. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the family court may terminate parental rights if they negatively affect child custody, placement, safety, and permanency planning.
No matter how well you understand a high-conflict custody situation, emotional responses will be handled best if you have an outlet. This may include a therapist or family confidant and relieving stress through physical activity. If you already see a therapist, schedule some extra sessions. Ramp up your self-care routine to maybe include a massage if that relieves tension for you. Above all, whatever distractions you use to lessen heightened emotions, ensure they are healthy choices. It’s hard to maintain your composure, but keep your focus on the children.
Stick to the Facts
You may view the custody situation as obviously in your favor, but sometimes the system doesn’t see the same thing, and each state has different custody laws and standards. Taking the high road and only responding with evidence and facts will serve you best. If the custody conflict goes to court, it will only intensify, so prepare yourself for the inevitable ups and downs during the process. Document details of interactions with your spouse during temporary custody arrangements, such as the transfer of children and other exchanges when co-parenting. You will not remember all the details later if your case goes to court.
Recording an agitated or high-conflict spouse is fraught with potential dangers. While many states permit one-party-consent recordings and federal law permits the same, individual states may have different legal consent language, which supersedes federal law. Read your state-specific law and consult your divorce or family law attorney before engaging in recording activity. It is not unusual that these recordings work against the party admitting it as evidence. Even if the recording(s) is legal and a parent views it as a “smoking gun,” a court may base the findings against the recorder. The court may cite heavy-handed, guilt-producing, and relentless activity and suggest the individual needs counseling to address manipulative behavior, which can impact the children. The myriad of legal issues surrounding the recording of conversations may even be considered criminal activity.
In the months and weeks leading up to your court date, keep up with whatever stress-reducing techniques you use. Learn some new breathing exercises to lower tension and help you focus. Resist escalating the conflict with unnecessary contact with your spouse. Avoid the temptation of sending an angry email or text, as any correspondence sent may be submitted as evidence and damage your case.
High-conflict custody situations will challenge you in and out of court. Remember the following:
- The children come first, always. The focus must remain on the needs of the children.
- Co-parenting is a long-term commitment, and children benefit when parents remain cordial.
- Do not bad mouth the other parent. Disparaging them with name-calling makes you seem immature and can damage children.
- Keep your focus on facts and evidence. Your position should be on how best to parent your children moving forward, not defending yourself from some petty action.
- Listen to your lawyer carefully and only answer questions with a narrow focus. Do not elaborate or provide additional information. Maintain eye contact with your divorce attorney.
- If you receive a barrage of questions and become flustered, you can look at the judge and say, “I don’t know how to respond.” Typically the judge will make some comments giving you time to refocus and address the questions in smaller bites.
- Ask your divorce lawyer if the judge can appoint a professional arbiter to settle future disagreements. Naming a mediator can help parents work through communication issues instead of ending up back in court.
- Contact your divorce attorney if you are unsure about big issues or the next step in the custody process. If one party grossly violates court orders, such as falling behind in child support, threatening the safety of the children, or intimating they will keep the children during your visitation, immediately get your family law attorney involved.
- If you fear for the safety of your children or yourself and your spouse or ex threatens physical harm to your family, call 911 – when help arrives, phone your lawyer so they may begin to secure a restraining or protective order.
Remember to love your children more than you “hate” your ex. Children of divorce can easily become psychologically and emotionally damaged in high-conflict custody cases—foster positive relationships for their sake. Maintain your composure in high-stress moments and stay well-informed about how your case is proceeding. Your family law or divorce attorney understands how easily high-conflict cases can escalate. Continue your positive behaviors, prioritize your children, and be helpful and patient with your legal representation for the best possible outcome. Please contact our Houston office today at (713) 582-5088 or schedule a consultation to discuss your legal matters.