Dumb Mistakes Mothers Sometimes Make
This article is from Custody Prep for Moms, a very good site. Check it out for other great advice and information.
DUMB MISTAKES MOTHERS SOMETIMES MAKE
-DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT THESE UNLESS YOU WANT TO RISK LOSING YOUR CHILDREN:
1) Do not withhold visitation unless the children have physical injuries or strong indications of sexual abuse. If this is the case, consult an attorney immediately and consider filing a motion requesting an emergency hearing if you do withhold visitation. With all other concerns, you’ve got to work w/the court and hope for the best. Sometimes even with injuries and sexual abuse, women can be accused of making false allegations. This is a serious problem in today’s family court rooms. You are going to need legal advice.
2) Drop the hostility about other women - the one your ex had an affair with, the one he left you for, the current girlfriend, the new wife, whatever the case may be–if you are in a custody battle, that will be used to make you look vindictive, hateful, and unable to put aside marital issues for parenting issues. The courts generally do not consider men’s indiscretion as having any bearing on custody. Occasionally, if there are sleep-overs or cohabitation when the kids are in the home with the ex, this may carry some weight. Otherwise, there are far bigger fish to fry than the ex’s sexual indiscretions.
3) It is not advisable to call the police on your ex over things that occur during visitation, vile or not. It will get you in custody hot water. The exception is physical violence against you or the children. Obviously, safety is paramount.
4) Do not isolate yourself - You are going to need family and friends to support you through this and be witnesses for you in court. However, choose your confidantes extremely carefully and watch what you say. Sometimes even well-meaning family and friends can disclose things you said that can reflect negatively upon you. Many victims of abuse have had abusive childhoods. If this is the case for you, be mentally prepared that your ex will likely attempt to use the history of abuse in your family against you. If you have made a choice to distance yourself from abusive family members, be prepared that your ex will likely try to paint that as your inability to maintain familial relationships.
5) Do not remain unemployed -You must establish that you can support your children and not expect to live off alimony or child support. If child care is a problem, look into having family and friends help care for the kids so you can work and show stability. Check around town for resources–women’s advocacy centers, etc. There may be some sort of daycare assistance programs that subsidize day care so low income women can work. Try not to take on too many hours–some women have been penalized for being working mothers–so try to demonstrate that you have flexibility to be available for your children’s needs as much as possible. This is a double-edged sword for women in today’s court climate.
6) Do not become depressed. See our articles on “Mental Preparation”. Although situational depression is extremely common for women experiencing divorce and custody litigation, you must do everything in your power to fight it off. If you have been unsuccessful at keep depression at bay by the methods we recommend in our articles, and it is becoming incapacitating, please seek help from a reputable professional.
7) Do not even jokingly consider suicide. Killing yourself is a cruddy answer to your kids problems. Do you really think your children will be better off with a life with one abusive parent and no influence from their mother? Also, consider that if it becomes known to court personnel that you are considering or have considered suicide, you will likely be viewed as the less stable parent, which could jeopardize your chances to remain the primary parent for your children.
8) Don’t show up for court looking like anything less than June Cleaver. If you think you are not going to be judged by your appearance, think again. If you have tattoos, multiple body piercings, purple hair and a penchant for leather and short skirts, save your individuality for days when yours and your children’s future doesn’t depend on it. Dress conservatively for all court appearances, evaluator and therapy appointments. Again, think June Cleaver–June was certainly a capable woman–she didn’t take any guff from Ward or The Beav, but she always looked soft, feminine, conservative and maternal. Anyone who will appear in court in court with you–relatives, friends, co-workers, significant others–should also dress appropriately.
9) Do not bad-mouth your ex-husband to your children. If you have not heard of Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS, you may be in for a shock. Start reading at our “links” page and the article titled “Parental Alienation and Other Misogynistic “Syndromes””. Even though this “syndrome” is a bogus one, court personnel across the nation have applied it or its spin-offs as a reason to remove custody from fit mothers. A fit mother can lose custody under allegations of this syndrome whether or not they have denigrated the father to their children. It is that dangerous. It is an abuser’s attorney’s dream defense strategy. Do not hand them your head on a platter and actually do this. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Your children will eventually establish their own relationship with their father, for better or for worse. Allow them to navigate their own way. Besides, bad-mouthing only cheapens you and mires you in unhealthy negative energy.
10) Do not lose control with the ex. You should assume that every exchange you have with your ex–in person, by telephone, by fax, by mail, by e-mail–is being documented or recorded in some way. It is not uncommon for some fathers to harass or goad the mothers of their children during custody litigation–be aware. Should you lose it with your ex, you may find it used as ammunition against you in court to paint you as “unstable”. It is simply not worth the catharsis. If he loses control with you, disengage–calmly hang up the phone after stating your intention to do so, leave the room, think through the written word carefully.
11) Be very wary of efforts to reconcile during custody litigation. One mother we know met her ex for dinner to discuss reconciliation. She had a couple of glasses of wine with dinner at his urging. As soon as she left the restaurant, he called in a police report and she was arrested for DUI which he then used against her in the custody case.
12) Do not turn to crutches to get you through the pain and grief. There is no faster way to lose custody than to start using alcohol, drugs, gambling and men as such. There is no faster way to deteriorate your health than to turn to alcohol, drugs, late-nights, junk food, caffeine and cigarettes either. We are aware of cases in which the pivotal reason a parent lost custody was because they smoked. Be the healthy parent.
13) Do not cohabitate. No men should be staying overnight at your house with your children present during custody litigation. Yeah, sure, this is the 2000’s…don’t fool yourself. Judges typically do not like children to be exposed to these adult issues. For that matter–if you are a lesbian mother, these same rules regarding over-nighting and cohabitation apply.
14) Do not associate with men that a judge or evaluator may look unfavorably upon. If your new boyfriend or significant other has a terrible or inappropriate relationship with your children, you are not doing yourself any favors. If they have substance abuse problems, anger-management problems, arrest records, etc. your ex will find out and use this against you. We strongly recommend waiting to resume your dating life until you are officially divorced at the very least, and being exceptionally cautious from there forward. Judges may view your dating/sex life as a sign of your immaturity, instability and inability to put your children first. Think twice.
15) Don’t automatically assume that you can move with your children. Judges are considering more and more the father’s role in children’s life, sometimes to the detriment of the child in situations of domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, a strong maternal bond, etc. Judges tend to favor the parent that is staying in the child’s home environment unless there are strong reasons for the move. If you are just trying to get a fresh start and get away from the children’s father, you may have an extreme uphill battle to convince the court that this move is in the children’s best interests. Some states and courtrooms apply relocation restrictions.
16) Do not deprive the children’s father of information. Unless there is a specific court order, even if you have sole custody, the father is entitled to receive information about schooling, extra-curricular activities, health care. Some women that have withheld such information or directed others to withhold it have had custody reversed based on “alienation” theories. It isn’t worth the risk.
17) Do not withhold visitation due to non-payment of child support. The two issues are not linked. The children are not a financial pawn. You must use your legal and state child support enforcement agency remedies to collect unpaid child support. Child support is not meant to mean that the father gets to visit on a pay-as-you-go basis. These are separate orders.
18) Don’t leave the marital home. The instant you leave the house, you yield a major advantage when it comes to gaining custody. The court may look at your decision to leave as a sign that your ex is the real custodial parent, that you are abandoning your children, or that you are flighty and unstable. Some judges actually view the house and the kids as one entity that is transferred together. If your spouse is abusive or the situation has become so volatile that it is harmful to the children, you may be able to file a motion to have your ex leave the marital home. If you feel you have no choice but to leave, take the children with you.
19) Beware of temporary separation agreements. Often the terms of a temporary written or verbal separation agreement become the final terms of divorce. Judges often look at the “status quo”–if a temporary arrangement has been agreed to and appears to have been working between the parties and the children, judges may be reluctant to change it.
21) Even if paternity has not yet been legally established, treat the prospective Fathers in the same way you would be required to if it had already been established. Courts are affording non-married fathers the same rights as married fathers. Do not assume that just because you were not married that the child is under your sole authority.
20) Don’t sign a deal believing that you can easily renegotiate the custody arrangements later. It is very difficult to modify a final custody order, as the burden of proof is on the filing parent to show a substantial change of circumstances. Many mothers have trusted their former mates when they were told that they could leave the kids with him temporarily until they got “on their feet”. Upon leaving the home, even possibly moving out of state to be where support systems are, they find their ex’s have filed for full custody and received it.
IF SOME OF THESE “DON’TS” SOUND LIKE THEY’RE DOUBLE STANDARDS FOR WOMEN, YOU ARE RIGHT. NO ONE EVER SAID THAT LIFE WAS FAIR, AND EACH TIME YOU WALK INTO A COURTROOM, YOU ARE ROLLING THE DICE. THE PLAYING FIELD IS NOT LEVEL FOR WOMEN AT PRESENT. CONSULT AN ATTORNEY EXPERIENCED IN FAMILY LAW AND CHILD CUSTODY. NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN SHOULD BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE.