How do I prepare for my child custody case?
Preparing to go to court is really vital. For one, what is your plan? What is your issue? That's one of the things that I go over in mentoring and consulting with my clients: "What is your objective?" "Is this the best objective?" Or, "Maybe there's something better that you hadn't thought about," and, "What is the best method?" So, I show people how to prepare to go to court, how to do that parent plan, what the best strategies are to use, how to save money by doing a lot of the paperwork themselves, how to organise their presentation because they will go to many different strangers, perfect strangers, to decide how they're going to live for their children from now on. So, you can see their preparation will make a huge difference.
Should I represent myself during my child custody case?
In a lot of these difficult cases where there is a lot of litigation, one of the strategies is to wear down the other parent with needless litigation, constant and chronic papering the other client. People will often run out of money and they are not lost if they have run out of money because they have a legal right to go to court and present their case. It's called being in pro per, or in the East they call it pro se. It's Latin for "I'm my own attorney". Many of the clients that I've had have been in court a lot and have seen how it works, how to behave there, and the importance of filing papers, and what the rules are about that, and the timing of all of these things. I tell people you can work with a paralegal that knows how to do all of that stuff that's far less expensive, and you can learn how to present your own case so you're not paying exorbitant attorney fees and the other side may have, worst case scenario, mean attorney, but that doesn't mean that the judge is going to see it always that person's way. The judge may very well see it your way, so not to give up just because you can't afford an attorney. There's a saying that a person who is their own attorney has a fool for a client. And it's true, the person just doesn't know what they're doing, then they're a fool as a client. But I've seen people many times over the years that have learned how courts worked and have represented themselves very successfully.
What is a "child custody evaluator"?
The whole phenomenon of child custody evaluators came in in the late 80's or early 90's where it was really clear that in a lot of very complex families the judge could not know what was going on. Judges and commissions don't have the time to go to people's homes and carry out the whole psychological component they're not trained in, and certainly not very good at. So, it was decided by the powers that be, that professionals would be hired. These would be clinical psychologists, PHD level individuals or pyschiatrists with an MD who understood family systems, to evaluate a family to see what was really going on. This also generally includes a psychometric testing, where people are given a variety of tests to see what their underlying personality is and how they function. This is incorporated into the evaluator's report.
What happens during a "child custody evaluation"?
An evaluator will generally meet with each individual, sometimes with them together if that's appropriate, and will see each parent with their child or children. An evaluator will sometimes do a home visit to see the home environment, and to see the parent interact with the child in the home. They will also will talk with what are called collaterals, (the people who know this family like teachers, psychologists, and paediatricians or whatever is appropriate; whatever they list as collaterals), and will do an investigation of the family. The evaluator is not a therapist and is not the family's friend although they can be very friendly. They are an investigator, and you have to understand that that's their role. So, you walk in prepared with why you have issues; with what the problem is and what you think is the best solution to the problem. Having a wonderful parenting plan figured out, as well as this timeline I talked about; all of these and more are tools that people can use to walk in the door prepared.
When is a child custody evaluation ordered?
A child custody evaluation is ordered when the judge doesn't have enough information to make a decision. When the "he-said", "she-said", allegations going back and forth are very serious; many times people are so disturbed and emotionally upset that they will make allegations that have no merit or truth, but they're very serious allegations, so the judge would order a child custody evaluation. There are false allegations. The judge can't tell if this other parent molested the child, or if they're a brutal, vicious domestic violence perpetrator, or if there is severe child neglect and abuse going on, as often the case when it gets to the point of going to a judge. When allegations of that nature get made, a child custody evaluation is imperative, and it is crucial that an investigator go and investigate the family, and see who's telling the truth.
How do I prepare for a "child custody evaluation"?
It is so vitally important that parents prepare for a child custody evaluation. I've seen disasters where people just walk in and shoot from the hip. This is not the best way to go and that's why I wrote my book, "Creating a Successful Parenting Plan: a Step-by-Step Guide to the Care of Children and Divided Families," because I saw one disaster after another at child custody evaluations. Good people ended up in a horrible place around the custody of their children, maybe even lost their children. I also see that if they'd walked into the child custody evaluation prepared they would have had a much better shot at a positive outcome. How to prepare for a child custody evaluation? It's vital you prepare a parenting plan for the child custody evaluation, through two that chronology, three, the person who carries out the child custody evaluation will give you an extensive questionnaire asking you about your family. Prepare that with a great deal of care. Don't lie. If the child custody evaluator catches you in a lie, this is not a good thing. The child custody evaluation service do not expect that you're perfect and they look for lies. Do you have enough of a grasp on yourself that you accept personal responsibility for your past thoughts, feelings and actions in the child custody evaluation. So if you have had a drug problem, if you have had a D.U.I, if you have had some history, be forthcoming about it in the child custody evaluation and then say what you have done about it.
What happens after a child custody evaluation?
The result of a child custody evaluation. At the end of the report, everybody always turns to recommendations first. Because everything prior is what built up to their recommendations, their explanations. The recommendations are saying how the custody will go, and we think about custody in two ways. There is legal custody, where the person legally is responsible for all of the serious decisions over that child's life. If it's share legal custody, the parents must consult with each other and come to a consensus about what school and medical care and all of that, so share legal custody. And then there's physical custody. So one parent often has primary custody, and the other parent has a secondary custody, or could be in the position of visiting with their children and the evaluator will make recommendations as to how that should go. They are not the judge, so they can't make that decision, but they make recommendations. They also make recommendations about many different things related to the family. In terms of the kind of help the person perceive, the family needs, issues that are really naughty and difficult like move aways, are very difficult. Where should the child reside. And if the child is going to move away, how often will they be seeing their parents. How is that going to work out. There is just so many complicated issues. That somebody needs to decide.
What parenting problems occur during joint custody?
Joint custody can be a challenge because parents have very different parenting styles usually. The child goes to one family, or one parent, and that parent is likely to be more of a disciplinarian or coming from an authoritarian model. "I make the rules and you got to obey the rules". This is a common occurrence, and at the other parents home it's anything goes. So the former parent is - you got a bedtime and this is what you're going to eat and when you're going to eat it, and the rules are all very laid out. At the other parents home the child goes to bed when they fall asleep in front of the television, they eat anything they want to eat, they don't have normal healthy boundaries. Now, this is a child that's coping, this isn't a child that's adapting particularly because both of them by my standards are very poor parents. Now we have modern parenting styles that avoid the rigidity of the authoritarian parent, that's one of the poorest ways of parenting. But what lot of parents have done is the pendulum has swung way over into permissive parenting, where they permit and allow the child to do all kinds of things that are not developmentally appropriate for them, and they don't have boundaries. The parent has gone into a permissive style where whenever the child is upset with them they feel that they're not being loved, and so on. It's a crazy thing.
How can I avoid parenting problems during joint custody?
Being in a breakthrough parenting class or some other modern parenting class to learn positive proactive discipline techniques is going to make a world of difference to avoiding problems during joint custody. During joint custody, a child has to adapt to both families and cope. In a joint custody situation, the other parent isn't there so the one parent has full sway to be really rigid or not. I call it the "teeter totter," when one parent in a joint parenting situation is rigid and the other is permissive and they just keep backing out until they fall off. Both think that they are right, and so the child is pulled back and forth; there's no middle ground in the joint parenting situation. In breakthrough parenting they can find a middle ground where they learn the methods to discipline a child that don't involve negativity, chastising, spanking. There's no reason in the world to spank a child anymore. With the new methods that we have it doesn't even come up. With breakthrough parents that I've trained, they wouldn't dream of hitting their children. They now know win-win ways of solving problems with their children instead of for their children. A very different dynamic.
How can I help my child adapt to joint custody?
It very much matters how well each parent helps the child with the transition to the other home. So they need to be organized and pack their bag so that they have their familiar toys and things that they like to do, and help them anticipate that they're going to have a good time with the other parent, and that the other parent loves them and they're looking forward to being with them. That's the best of all possible worlds. The problem is that some parents make the ordinary, common separation anxiety that most children feel worse by adding to it, instead of reassuring them and minimizing that. Already they have some fear about this, but help them anticipate what a good time they're going to have with their mother or with their father.