When child custody needs to be settled in a couple’s divorce, it’s all too easy for the issue of how much time a child spends with each parent to turn into a battleground. Are tensions running high in your child custody matter? Not sure whether you should keep fighting or be willing to negotiate? Here are some tips for how to step back, reassess, and move forward on the path to resolution that’s best for you and your family.
The Battleground: You both want “full custody” of your children and are unwilling to listen to any other custody option.
Fight or Forgive?: In New Jersey, family law establishes that generally, it is in a child’s best interests to maintain relationships with each of their parents. This is why — unless extenuating factors such as abuse, domestic violence, abandonment, and drug use are involved — the courts rarely grant sole legal and physical custody to one parent. In most cases, couples share joint legal and physical custody of their kids with a parenting time plan put in place to establish visitation.
Sometimes, couples locked in the “I should get the kids because you’re a horrible parent” fight benefit from seeing a family therapist who can help them focus on their child’s needs rather than their own animosity. A legal option if you’re at loggerheads over custody is to sit down with a mediator to come up with what a shared custody/visitation parenting time plan would actually look like for your family. When parents see a real plan and the built-in solo time with their children it provides, we often find that suddenly both parties are able to start talking and reach a resolution that works for everyone.
The Battleground: Your child custody matter is being settled in court as part of your contested divorce and your spouse is doing everything possible to convince the judge you are a “bad parent.”
Fight or Forgive?: Judges realizes that mud slinging is an unfortunate side effect of many divorce cases, especially those involving contested or complex child custody issues. To provide more information about your parenting style and relationship with your kids, you may need to consider bringing in a child custody evaluator. A child custody evaluator is typically a psychologist or psychiatrist who is very familiar with the New Jersey law regarding custody and parenting time. The custody evaluator can either be a sole expert hired by one side or a joint expert that both parties utilize to determine custody.
If you feel like your spouse isn’t fighting fair in child custody matters, a child custody evaluator can be an important way to provide third party information on how you interact with your kids, the history of your relationship with them, and how you want your future relationship to unfold. The court will also give considerable weight to the custody evaluators as they are psychologically trained to determine what is in the best interest of a child.
One other tip if you are fighting this particular battle? Resist the urge to sling mud back. Instead, tell the truth, present your case thoroughly, and stay focussed on your children — and not any bitter feelings for your ex. In court, or even around the negotiation table, taking the higher road has its rewards.
The Battleground: Your spouse is creating tension between you and your kids by making hostile comments about you in their presence, not allowing them to take your phone calls, or even prohibiting them from seeing you.
Fight or Forgive? Because this kind of behavior can have such a devastating effect on the parent-child relationship, when evidence of parental alienation is present, seeking outside intervention — including going to court — may be necessary. In court, third parties such as child custody evaluators, reunification therapists and parent coordinators may be brought in, both to verify the alienation and reduce its impact. In New Jersey, while each case is decided based on its own circumstances, the consequences of parental alienation can be severe, including the offending parent having his or her custody rights limited.
What should you do right now? Before the alienation has more time to fester, talk with a NJ family law attorney about which legal options may be best for you, the kind of evidence you can legally and ethically gather, and steps you can take right now to enforce rights you have under your current custody agreement. Your attorney may also be able to make suggestions for therapists, evaluators and other needed outside experts.
Bottom line? Enlisting legal help early is often the most effective way to turn this particular battle from becoming an all out war.
Having trouble reaching common ground in your child custody matters? Please contact our experienced NJ child custody attorneys to schedule your initial consultation. We are committed to helping you and your family achieve a fresh start.