Please keep in mind that this post is not being written to encourage a child custody dispute; rather, it is for those parents who are about to start a divorce or a child custody case. Those parents may think of such famous movies as Marriage Story or Kramer vs. Kramer, when picturing what may be forthcoming. That their divorce or child custody case will be a long, ugly, painful, expensive, and destructive experience. That can and often does happen when two parents are testifying in court, each telling the judge his or her list of how the other is a bad parent with a long list of parenting failures. The child custody case becomes a finger-pointing contest where both parents pile on the criticism resulting in a situation where neither parent truly wins and everyone – especially the children at issue – suffer as a result. A Missouri court is going to first look at a joint legal and joint physical custody schedule before exploring alternative custody arrangements. Today, many local court rules require parents to explore possible alternatives to litigation to resolve their child custody dispute.
Unfortunately, sometimes custody litigation is simply unavoidable, whether because of allegations of parental unfitness, substance abuse, severe animosity between the parents, or an allegation of parental alienation. In those situations, it is important to know how to best position yourself to achieve your desired outcome. The list of our top ten tips below will help you avoid the typical pitfalls of custody litigation and lessen its heavy toll.
1. Evaluate Your Strengths and Weaknesses as a Parent
This is the most important and often the most challenging act for a parent to do. You must honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as a parent and make any necessary adjustments. The keyword in the last sentence is “honest” as you must be with yourself in making this evaluation. Do you drink alcoholic beverages more than you should? Do you use illegal drugs that you should not? Do you smoke marijuana every day but have a medical marijuana card? Do you work all the time and are rarely home? Now is the time to look at yourself as a parent objectively and make whatever changes or adjustments may be necessary. As tough as it may be to face your flaws, you won’t be able to avoid them once you find yourself in child custody litigation. So look in the mirror and face that reality now before you are in court.
If you believe that the other parent will accuse you of being an alcoholic or having a drinking problem that prevents you from having custody of your children, then you should consider voluntarily putting yourself on Soberlink. The court admissible technology has been used for child custody cases in Missouri to prove sobriety and provide peace of mind to the judge, the guardian ad litem, and the other parent. You may be months out before a temporary child custody hearing occurs in the courtroom. Having a report that shows you were tested multiple times a day and had no alcohol in your system is the best evidence to prove your sobriety, defeat the alcohol accusation being made by the other parent, and allow the court to safely order a shared custody plan
3. Hair Follicle Test
If you believe that the other parent will accuse you of having a drug problem that prevents you from having custody of your children, then you should consider obtaining a hair follicle test. The court admissible test results can be used for child custody cases in Missouri to prove that there are no drugs in your system for the past ninety days and provide peace of mind to the judge, the guardian ad litem, and the other parent. As stated in tip 2, you may be months out before a temporary child custody hearing occurs in the courtroom. Having monthly hair follicle test results that show you had no drugs in your system is the best evidence to prove your sobriety, defeat the drug problem accusation being made by the other parent, and allow the court to safely order a shared custody plan.
4. Stop Posting on Social Media
Stop posting on social media and make your accounts private. It is hard to overstate the usefulness for a child custody case of the evidence parents find out about each other on social media. From evidence of alcohol and drug use, to having the children at dinner with a parent’s new relationship parent, to photographs of things the other parent should not have done with the children, to unknown vacations, or expensive purchases, etc. Please do yourself a favor and stop helping the other parent by posting on social media.
5. Don’t Badmouth the Other Parent to or in Front of Your Children
If you badmouth the other parent in front of your children, you will be in trouble with the judge and damage your ability to be awarded joint legal or joint physical custody. More important, your comments are very damaging for your children to hear all the bad things you have to say about their other parent. If you need to vent, then please do so to your parents, friends, or therapist when your children are not around.
6. Start a Daily Journal of Your Involvement with Your Children
What a parent did or did not do with the children is often a disputed issue in a child custody case. Keeping a detailed record of your involvement in your children’s lives and activities can be very helpful down the line when working with your attorney or the guardian ad litem (if appointed by the court).
7. Keep the Other Parent Informed
If you are the parent in charge of your children’s schedules, now is the time to make sure you are properly informing the other parent. School events, doctor appointments, practices, games, recitals, etc. need to be sent to the other parent in writing so s/he is aware of what is scheduled. If you don’t do this, then you could be accused of purposefully cutting the other parent out to claim that s/he never attends any of the children’s activities.
8. Keep a Record of Your Interactions with the Other Parent
Whether two parents can communicate with each other about the children is an issue that comes up in every child custody case and is always considered by the judge. Proof of communications can show how good you are at communicating with each other or how bad the other parent is at communicating with you. To keep a record, simply save your emails or text messages with the other parent regarding the children.
9. Don’t Use Your Kids as Messengers Between Yourself and the Other Parent
This is a big one with the court. As much as you may hate the other parent, it is not your children’s job to be the messenger. Instead of using the children as the go between, you should call, text, or send an email to the other parent.
10. Change Your Passwords
Change the passwords on all your electronic devices, including your home computer, phone, and any other devices the other parent may have access to. Also change the passwords for all your email and social media accounts. Doing it as soon as possible may save you from a lot of future problems in a child custody case.
Should you need the advice of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney or have questions or concerns about your child custody situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those issues with you.