- by Mary Stearns-Montgomery
In most instances where parents are fighting over custody of their children, both parties genuinely seek to do what is best for the children involved. All too often, however, these legal proceedings turn into heated feuds whose realm reaches far beyond the doors of the courthouse. While you may think this argument is just between you and your ex, your children may become the unexpected casualties without either party desiring such an outcome. Here are some simple ways to prevent your child from being a pawn in your custody proceedings.
Don't let your children be treated as pawns in your divorce
- Avoid speaking ill of your ex. This is perhaps the most commonly made mistake, as parents try to persuade their children that spending time with them is preferable. But most children are incapable of rationally determining that spending weekdays with Parent A implies staying at their school, and every other weekend with Parent B is only one-seventh of the time. Children love their parents, and will go to extreme measures to please them. If you catch your child bad-mouthing your ex, you have far from won the battle. Chances are, he is just saying those things because he believes it is what you wish to hear. A child picking up on this negative rhetoric is a clear sign that you should change the way you speak about your ex, both to and anywhere around your children.
- Be honest and positive. Children can pick up on signs of chaos at a very early age. If you are in the middle of a custody battle, consider telling your children what is happening in clear, and positive language. Something to the effect of “Mommy and Daddy love you very much, and we are having some trouble figuring out what is best for you. So we are having some people help us figure it out” avoids saying anything negative about your ex, and prevents your child from thinking that you are stressing out on his account. Obviously, an older child will probably deserve more exact details, but do not turn a teenager into your confidant. Just because she is giving you mature responses, does not mean she can fully comprehend your adult problems.
- Never coach your child. Most judges can see though coaching, and it will not help your case. But more importantly, it is detrimental to your child. Even if your child is at an age where he is willing to say or do anything to please you now, chances are he will grow up and realize that you used him. You may have all the best intentions, but allowing your child to be truthful in testimony is the best way to ensure the court will make the right call. Custody battles are not a war to be won by either parent; in any good case the child is the victor.
In any child custody case, make sure to speak to your family lawyer so that your rights are protected you get the best possible outcome.