5 Ways to avoid a custody battle
With thanks to the media reporting of the case of Ms Minnock, the issue of ‘custody battles’ are back in the headlines again. Although no longer used in family proceedings, the term ‘custody‘ and the phrase ‘custody battle‘ make good headlines for the press. With Father’s Day approaching, many non-resident fathers will be feel anxious about whether they are going to be seeing their children this weekend.
This time last year, I wrote about the greatest gift you can give on Father’s Day is the gift of allowing your children time with their father on this day. And I’m talking to you if you are a mother or a non-resident father.
As we have seen in recent weeks, child contact arrangements are very emotive issues and can cause great heartache for parents and children alike. Rarely are these things easy. Two year ‘custody battles’ or more appropriately ‘child arrangement applications’ are costly financially and emotionally.
The court has a difficult job. To ensure that the best interests of the child are met. You may think that your child’s best interest are best met by you, and you might be right.
We have seen in the case of Ms Minnnock & Mr Williams that the Judge found that Ms Minnock had ‘fabricated’ issues about Mr Williams in order to ‘frustrate justice’. Putting the concept of justice to one side, its worth remembering that this behaviour was found not to be in the child’s best interest.
ask yourself this honestly : “Is the other parent bad? Really?”
We don’t know the detail and background to the Minnock case, but in a great many cases, the issues around contact are finely balanced. Two good parents, able to provide great care. If you force a judge to make a decision, they will. And it could be a decision that neither of you like.
Now there are cases that don’t fall into that category. There are those cases where genuinely, there are concerns about a parent and their motivations, abilities and desire to provide a stable family home for their children. Fortunately, the majority of cases do not fall into this category.
Then there’s love. When it comes to the love of our children, we can get into doing irrational things, such is our desperation to hold on to what we love.
- We can fail to return a child after contact
- We can run away with them
- We can take them abroad
- We can exaggerate the truth about incidents that occurred
- We can make up stories about other people to make them look bad
- We can bad mouth other people on Facebook.
You might be going through a painful separation where you cant agree what’s best for your children. Its normal to feel anxious, worried and upset. But ask yourself this honestly : Is the other parent bad? Really? If the answer is no, think about your children first. This is not about you (and I understand that it feels like the end of your world), your job as a parent is to ensure that your children are brought up well adjusted and happy. Generally speaking, that’s a relationship with both parents. If the two of you can decide how to make that happen, your children will thank you for it.
Tempting though it may be to do all the things listed above, resist it. For the sake of your children. Ms Minnock may have thought she was acting in her child’s best interest, but the court did not agreed and now, the judge’s comments about her are national news. Her son will get to understand what happened when he’s older. How will he feel?
So what can you do to avoid a custody battle?
Talking with your former partner about your children is the most important thing you can do. Recognise that your children are not the cause of your relationship breakdown but they will be a casualty of it if you do not handle it properly. Whatever your thoughts about each other as partners, separate this from your respect for each other as parents. The two things are not the same.
It does not follow that if you are not a good partner for someone that you are automatically not a good parent.
If you are struggling emotionally with the loss of your relationship, seek help and support.
2. Be honest
One of the best things that you can do for your family, and in particular your children, is be honest. If that means accepting that the children would be equaly happy living with the other parent, or that they might because of circumstances, be better cared for living with the other parent for whatever reason, take steps to admit that to yourself and be honest about it. As painfully as that may be, you will feel relieved. Relieved that you don’t have to pretend. Relieved that you don’t need to make up stories, exaggerate and seek support from people to take sides. You can get on with making decisions that work for your family.
3. Put your children first
When threatened with ‘losing your children’, its easy to forget their needs. It’s easy to get into fight mode. It’s easy to get into point scoring and ensuring that there’s a winner and a loser. Here’s the thing. Your children have already lost. You may go on and find love again and enter into a new happy relationship that lasts a life time. Your children have ‘lost’ their mum and dad living in the same house together. Their family looks different and it’ll be different forever.
Putting their needs first enables you to keep a sense of reality. Can you honestly say hand on heart that your child should not have a relationship with the other parent? Remember, your children having a relationship with the other parent dos not lessen their love for you.
4. Do not put your children in the middle
Do not ask your children to listen to your bad mouthing their other parent. It really isn’t cool. If you want your children to grow up to be respectful adults, you need to show that you respect their other parent. Do not ask them to act as go between’s with messages. Their job is to be your children, not to referee the two of you. What that teaches them is that arguing and fighting is acceptable behaviour. Behaviour they are more likely to repeat when they are older.
5. If you cant reach agreement on your own, try mediation BEFORE you call your lawyer
If it just isn’t possible to reach agreement, consider using mediation before you call your lawyer. Mediation can help you get your communication back on track. It can help you to say things that are difficult in a supported environment. Mediation can help you before you completely lose the ability to think rationally. It will save you time, money and your sanity. You can use your lawyer as well as mediation if you want or need to. But, the two of you know your family best, so start there.
I hope that you get to spend sometime with your father this weekend and more importantly, I hope your children get to spend time with theirs too.
Your Family First can be contacted on 01904 697760 or at firstname.lastname@example.org