“Children typically suffer pain, confusion, and insecurity when their parents separate. They are hurt by outbursts of anger, bitterness, a lack of respect, an inability to communicate, and the overt hostility that can repeatedly flare up between battling parents.” ~Through the Eyes of Children
If you’re preparing for a child custody battle, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the child custody battle unavoidable?
- Have I done everything reasonably possible to resolve disagreements?
- Have we used the best co-parenting tools to reduce conflict?
- Are we truly incapable of negotiating a child custody agreement privately?
- Have I asked my co-parent to work with a child custody specialist, mediator, or therapist?
If you’ve done your utmost, and must ask a judge to decide child custody, here are suggestions for the difficult road ahead. I draw this insight from my experience as an attorney in child custody mediation, hearings, and trials in San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara, and Alameda, California over the last twenty years.
How to Prepare for a child custody battle
1. Protect your child from harm.
If you and your child are victims of abuse, please get help from qualified professionals. Domestic violence and child abuse laws are complex, and the legal process to get a protective order is intense and time sensitive. A skilled professional who works specifically, and ideally, exclusively in this field, understands abuse and the system. If you lose a child custody battle in California, I recommend you contact the Family Violence Appellate Project immediately. FVAP helps victims appeal and overturn judges’ decisions, and stop the abuse.
2. Reflect on your parenting.
Are your requests for child custody and visitation reasonable and in your child’s best interest? A court must look at “all circumstances bearing on the best interest of the minor child.” In California, joint legal and physical custody are the norm, even for parents who were primary breadwinners and secondary parents during marriage. So generally, absent evidence that a fifty-fifty timeshare will be detrimental to a child, a family law judge may drastically change the existing arrangement. However, it also isn’t uncommon for judges to make temporary child custody orders permanent if a parent fails to show a change is best.
3. Note your schedules and activities.
Keep a timeshare log. Record the dates and times that you and/or your spouse/partner spends with your child/children. Note extracurricular activities, doctor’s visits, daycare, school, and friend events to gain a present awareness of who and how you and your spouse/partner provide child care. This will give you a quantifiable picture of your current co-parenting and child custody practice. It will also enable your lawyer, child custody mediator, evaluator, and judge to determine whether to change or maintain a temporary order “status quo” (as-is.)
4. Be Mindful of negative emotions.
Child custody battles are heartbreaking, nerve-wracking, and triggering. If you’re a good human in a child custody battle, you’ll likely feel rage, terror, and despair. You also may be short-tempered or incapable of speaking without expressing anger. It’s understandable. Your instinct is to protect your child. The key is to demonstrate you are reasonable and prioritize your child’s best interests. If you make petty arguments or appear incapable of working through anger, your behavior may color a judge’s opinion. A judge will consider your courtroom conduct, language, and legal arguments when assessing your credibility.
I recommend practicing mindfulness meditation to help you cope. It is scientifically proven that being mindful reduces the mental and physical effects of stress. It’s free, portable, and you can practice it anywhere, anytime, and obsessively. Of the many soul-centering techniques I’ve used over the last twenty-six years, prayer/faith and mindfulness meditation are my top choices for stress reduction during a child custody battle.
5. Expand your knowledge and tool chest.
Read Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime. The author, Robert E. Emery, PhD, is a researcher, therapist, and mediator, who has focused his career on divorce for decades. In his book, Dr. Emery speaks to most divorcing parents’ deepest fears: “Is my child’s behavior normal or a due to the divorce?” Dr. Emery also shares his personal experiences as a divorced co-parent who knows firsthand how difficult, but necessary it is to adopt a parenting plan that “grows and changes along with the developing needs of children.” Emery states bluntly that your jobs as a divorcing parent are to behave maturely and shield the kids.
Try The OurFamilyWizard (“OFW”) platform. OFW is an online portal that separated and divorced co-parents use to communicate, organize, maintain, exchange, and track schedules, kid’s expenses and records. It can open lines of communication between co-parents who might be incapable of otherwise communicating effectively, if at all.