April 6, 2008

Top 10 list: Top 10 ways to keep your kids out of the middle of your divorce or custody case

In divorce and filiation cases involving custody of children, frequently the children suffer most. As divorce and family law lawyers, we have seen the good, bad, and the ugly of well meaning parents putting the kids in the middle of the case. If your case involves a custody or parenting time dispute, nothing will draw the wrath of the court faster than involving your kids in the dispute. The following is a top ten list of things NOT to do during your custody or divorce case. DO NOT:

  1. Talk to them about the case. The last thing they need to hear is that mom and dad are involved in a legal dispute. The first thing they need to hear is that mom and dad both love them very much.
  2. Use them as pawns in the battle against your spouse. The kids are not weapons. Don’t make a frivolous custody or parenting time claim to gain leverage in financial negotiations. Whatever you think you may gain, your children will lose.
  3. Use them as your therapist, or treat them as your peers. If you need a therapist or need counseling, seek a professional rather than involving your children in your turmoil.
  4. Put your spouse down in front of the kids. Divorce and custody disputes can be bitter. Emotions can run high. No matter your frustrations with the other parent, don’t put them down in front of the kids. You are not only harming your case, you are harming your children.
  5. Turn your children in to messengers. The parents are the adults. Send the kids the correct message and talk and problem solve with the other parent directly.
  6. Grill your children about what is happening at the other parent’s home. You may not live under the same roof, and may be curious about what he or she is up to. Questions about whether mom or dad is dating, what hours they keep, and what happened, blow by blow, on the visit send the wrong message to the kids, custody evaluator, and court. You will satisfy your curiosity at the expense of your children and your case.
  7. Ask the kids to take sides. Asking a child to tell the court, custody evaluator, or children’s attorney that they want to live with you enmeshes the kids in an adult process. Don’t do it. Some judges and evaluators think it is child abuse.
  8. Make the children feel disloyal for enjoying time with the other parent. Oregon’s statutory policy is that kids are better off having wholesome and frequent contact with both parents, if the parents are fit.
  9. Sabotage the other parent. Don’t purposely forget important clothing or gear when we are going to our other parent’s place. Don’t forget the coat on the ski trip. Do you think you will look better in court because your son or daughter was cold on the ski trip because they didn’t have their coat? (which was in your possession.)
  10. Ask the kids to keep secrets from the other parent. You may think you are bettering your position, but the children’s attorney, custody evaluator, and judge will think differently. Don’t put the kids in the middle, and don’t pit them against the other party by asking them to keep secrets.