Don't say or do things you wouldn't in front of a judge.
The divorce process is usually very difficult and trying for anyone experiencing it. These difficult times often cause a person to act or react irrationally and in ways that detrimentally affect his or her custody case. Be aware that prior to court proceedings, the court will evaluate your behavior in its entirety throughout the proceedings and always behave accordingly.
Whether you're fighting to be the primary residential parent or for weekend visits with your children, the evaluation process by the court will encompass all of your behavior. In particular, expect your children's mother to point out all negative behavior.
Children are wonderful mimics. You should expect your children to tell their mother everything you tell them. Knowing this, you should be aware of things said to the children or around the children that relate to their mother.
You should also anticipate your children's mother hiding a tape recorder on or near her person when you interact. Recorded telephone conversations are common during divorce proceedings. In such cases, words spoken out of anger and frustration quickly become the rope that hangs the speaker.
This list is not exhaustive but includes some of the most common mistakes made by men during child custody battles.
1. You alienate your children from their mother.
Children thrive best in a two-parent household whenever possible. If a parent makes it a habit to put down the other parent, the children feel torn and forced to choose one parent over the other.
This is very frustrating and confusing for the children. Judges are quite familiar with the damage this behavior can cause and are extremely intolerant when this behavior occurs. The two most common forms of alienation of affection that get dads into trouble are criticizing mom around the kids and keeping the children from mom in any way.
2. You yell at your wife or children.
When you yell at your wife or your children it often gives the appearance that you're being abusive or bullying them.
Men are in a distinct position in this society where they're presumed to be dominating and more powerful than women (and of course children). That being the case, women are in a position to claim they're afraid of their husband or the father of their children. Whether their fear is authentic or not, the court takes such allegations very seriously.
Don't give her any ammunition for the court. A tape recording of a telephone conversation or an in-person argument will appear to the court to demonstrate you losing control and possibly becoming dangerous.
No matter how hard it becomes, fight the urge to yell at your wife or your children. If that becomes a general rule, you won't need to worry about such behavior impeding you in court.
3. You have had a physical confrontation with your wife or children.
Making physical contact with another person in a harmful or offensive manner is a crime. Some states call that crime "battery"; others refer to it as "assault." Whatever the term, it's criminal. You cannot very well care for your children from jail.
No matter how upset you become during these proceedings, don't make physical contact with your wife or children when you're angry. If this is something that has occurred in the past, you need to acknowledge that you're susceptible to such behavior and leave the area when you become upset.
There are many women who are abusive toward their husbands. It's no less a crime for a woman to be physically abusive toward you or your children. If she hits, pushes, punches, or otherwise makes contact with you in an offensive way while she's angry, call the police. Such behavior should be reported. The police will treat her the same way they would've treated you and she will go to jail.
Judges take these matters very seriously because physical violence between parents is confusing and upsetting to children. Studies have shown that children who witness domestic violence from an early age suffer developmental challenges as well as life-long emotional problems.
4. You move in with your significant other too quickly.
Divorce is a difficult time for children. It's hard for them to grasp the idea that their parents' love for each other can simply end. Things are even more difficult when that love is transferred to a person that isn't their mother. Courts are reluctant to expose children to such truths.
Judges don't appreciate children being exposed to significant others while a divorce is proceeding. In addition, children are unlikely to be comfortable around the new woman and may refuse to stay overnight or even visit your home if she's there. That will certainly prevent you from having a healthy relationship with your children.
5. You openly criticize your wife to family, friends, and/or your caseworker.
Keep in mind that your friends now are likely friends that were shared by both parties at one time. You should expect friends to still talk to both parties. Assume comments you make will get back to your wife. If a caseworker or guardian is assigned to your case, they're looking intently for signs of alienation of affection.
Don't let them see it coming from you. Focus on the good relationship you have with your children and how well you communicate. Don't waste time criticizing their mother.
If the children's mother is involved in illegal drug use or otherwise engaging in behavior that's dangerous to the children, this should be brought to the attention of the caseworker or guardian and closely investigated. Be certain you have some form of unbiased evidence before making such allegations or you again run into the problem of appearing to be trying to alienate the children from their mother.
6. You fail to pay child support.
If the court enters an order of support and you choose to ignore it, that's considered contempt of court. If the judge makes a finding that you're in contempt, you may be fined or even jailed for such behavior.
As a general rule, the judges feel that paying child support is more important than any other financial obligations. Failure to pay child support appears to the court as your lack of respect for the court and lack of concern for your children. Child support amounts are set using several variables to determine what it will take for the child to continue to survive as the child had prior to the breakup.
You may hire an experienced men's divorce attorney to fight the support amounts ordered if you have good cause, but until the court orders otherwise, you are responsible for paying child support as ordered. If ordered to pay your wife directly, always do this by check and save the receipts from the bank showing these checks cleared. Your wife may later deny receiving cash payments.
7. You damage property belonging to your children's mother or her family.
Property damage is often a sign of aggression that's building up in a person. Not only will the court make you pay to replace any damaged property, but they may also see you as a threat to your children due to such behavior.
8. You deny your children telephone contact with their mother.
Even if you have limited time with a child, you must allow that child to call mom when requested. In addition, if she calls to check on the child you need to be polite and allow her to talk to the child, unless that would cause disruption or the child is sleeping. Such calls from mom must be reasonable. Children should feel free to communicate with either parent at any time.
If your wife denies you contact with your children when you call, be sure to keep a journal of the dates and times so the court may address it if it becomes a problem. You should expect that your wife is keeping a similar journal.
9. You travel with the kids without warning their mother in advance.
If you have a family vacation or reunion planned outside the metropolitan area in which you live, be sure that you have notified their mother before you take the children. Many parents reach agreement about vacation times with the children so that each parent has an opportunity to spend a week or two out of town with the kids.
If you leave the area without notifying your wife, it may appear you're attempting to kidnap the children. That could result in her obtaining emergency orders restricting or terminating your parenting time or custody. If at all possible, try to notify her in writing two weeks in advance so there will be no confusion when the time comes.
10. You remove the children from school or daycare without notifying their mother.
Temporary orders will usually designate parenting time but rarely includes the time when the child is at school or in daycare. If the school allows you to visit the children over lunch or other times, you should freely do so as long as it isn't a distraction. You should never remove the children from school or daycare if you aren't the primary custodian.
Even if you are the primary custodian, the children should remain in school or daycare unless you have a good reason to remove them. Expect your wife to bring the judge a printout from the school that will show absences while the children are in your care.
There are no guaranteed ways to win a child custody battle, but avoiding the above mistakes can at least keep you in the battle.
This article was originally published at dadsdivorce.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.