In The News: Lowering Tension in High Conflict Child Custody Cases


If you’ve kept up with the news this week, you have no doubt heard about the tragic murder of an Ocean County mother of nine allegedly gunned down by her ex-husband, a sergeant with the Neptune Township Police Department.

We thought long and hard about referencing this unsettling and extremely sad situation. It is very difficult to write about. But, at the request of our readers we have gathered some thoughts which, hopefully, help others who may be in the middle of an agonizing child custody battle.

As the Asbury Park Press reports, the recently divorced couple (their divorce was finalized only last month) had nine children, ranging in age from 7 to 24. One of the prime motivators that seems to have led to the fatal shooting?

Conflict over child custody.

As one witness to the crime told the APP, just moments before the incident, the husband was yelling at his ex-wife about their child custody fights.

“The guy was in the middle of the street,” the witness told the newspaper. “He was saying, ‘I’m tired of going to court.’”

According to reports, the off-duty police officer then chased down and fatally shot his ex-wife before police were able to persuade him to surrender.

At this time, it remains unclear what extenuating circumstances, beyond child custody, played a role in this grave matter.

Our hearts go out to the children and the families affected by this tragedy.

We have been asked to talk about steps that could be taken to help prevent contested child custody disputes from spiraling out of control.

If you are caught up in a high conflict child custody case where tempers have flared and tensions are running high over who gets the kids, please consider the following tips.

Get Counseling: When emotions start to escalate in a child custody battle, suddenly every last little communication from the other side can feel like part of a master plan to derail your ability to parent. When you start to feel constantly enraged, finding a way to end the discord may seem impossible.

As difficult as it can be in the heat of a contested child custody matter, take a deep breath and take stock of your mental state. Is your anger or rage with your former partner ruling you? It’s time to get help. Working with a counselor or therapist won’t miraculously cure your child custody issues, but it can give you the mental clarity necessary to get some perspective. Whatever course you ultimately take to resolve your matter, feeling emotionally healthy makes it easier to make decisions about your kids that are not ruled by negative feelings towards your former partner.

Choose Representation Wisely: When individuals seek the assistance of an attorney or other professional during their divorce, it is usually at the end of the marriage when emotions are running very high. Because of the hurt you feel, your first instinct may be to hire a “gladitorial attorney” who promises to take your ex to the cleaners in court and never let him or her see the kids again. Plainly speaking, these kinds of litigation-first attorneys tend to feed off conflict (instead of trying to diffuse tension) because the time it takes to go to court results in more money for them.

To prevent yourself from falling into this trap, and to take unnecessary aggression out of the matter, make it a priority to look for a family law attorney who has experience with mediation and other collaborative methods of divorce — methods which have been demonstrated to lower conflict and help parents and families make a peaceful transition after divorce. Yes, in some cases, going to court is necessary and proper, and an attorney’s litigation expertise is very important. However, in most child custody cases, it is possible to find ways to work through contentious issues to reach an agreement both parties can accept. Your attorney should be able to help you explore these possible options. When interviewing attorneys, ask them about mediation and collaborative divorce and how these techniques might pertain to your case.

Get Help: If your former spouse has made threats of physical violence, is acting increasingly hostile and/or aggressive towards you, or has engaged in domestic assault or domestic violence of any kind, avail yourself to all available protections under the law. This can include calling law enforcement to report an incident and press charges and/or going to court to pursue a temporary restraining order (TRO). The stakes are incredibly high when it comes to negations over child custody, but there is never an excuse for threats, intimidation or violence.

The law is here to help you. For more information on domestic violence and where to get help, please refer to the resources page: Signs, Signals & Help for Domestic Violence Victims.