It’s not uncommon to hear threats of never seeing your children again during a high-conflict divorce and child custody dispute. When a marital relationship (or any relationship) is splintering for any number of reasons, the level of contentiousness and acrimony rises to unbearable levels. One or both parents may be inclined to push the hottest of all hot-buttons – the threat of taking the children away from the other parent permanently. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, whether your child is kidnapped by some stranger criminal or they’re taken away by a disgruntled, unhappy, vindictive ex-partner.
The greatest suggestion that we can give you is to not be that parent. It’s of paramount importance that you keep your wits, your emotions, and your overall behavior in-check. As difficult as it may seem under these tremendously stressful circumstances, you must dig deep within yourself and be the calm, rational one.
What other suggestions can we offer? Quite a few. Some you may have heard or read some of these before, but some may be new and hadn’t previously crossed your mind.
- Know everything about your children’s school(s). Know their teachers and make regular, repeated contact, even just to “check-in” on the progress of your child. Know the principle’s name, their guidance counselor’s name, the school’s name and mascot. Be knowledgeable about your child’s strongest and weakest subjects. Consider volunteering at the school when your work schedule allows. Take a vacation day to chaperone a field trip or be the classroom parent for a day.
- Know your child’s medical information. Be aware of their allergies, medications, immunization status. Be aware of their injury and illness history. Know their pediatrician, the doctor’s location, office hours, and phone number.
- Be familiar with your child’s friends and their families. Familiarize yourself with names, ages, parents, and where they live. Make a phone call or visit to introduce yourself to the parents. Have them over to your home, too, if possible. Host a birthday party at home or a public facility and invite them.
- Be a volunteer with your child’s extracurricular activities, sports teams, etc. when possible. Know the schedules, the coaches’ names, and how your child feels about the activity and participation.
- Keep a journal and log the details about any attempts by the other parent to keep you from your child. Note any custodial interference. Note anytime reasonable phone contact was denied (be careful here – reasonable phone contact can be quite broad, but a pattern of unreturned phone calls after leaving a message or a pattern of a failure to allow any phone contact at all can be useful in child custody matters).
The bottom line is that it is unbelievably important to truly know your child. It may surprise you but it’s not uncommon for parents to take such knowledge for granted. When you’re involved in a child custody matter – your knowledge of such details needs to be much sharper than it sometimes is with a normal, intact family. It may not be fair, but it is no less very important that you be well versed on the little details, too. When asked to describe your child, make sure focus on primarily on their personality over their physical traits. Consider writing down all of the wonderful details about your children and read it. Then, re-read. Then, re-read it again and again. It will help you to keep the information fresh in your head so you’ll be ready when the questions come from family court child custody judges and other professionals who will undoubtedly breeze into and out of your child custody proceedings.
Having a well-rounded and detailed knowledge of all aspects of your child’s life will make a positive impression on the court and do well to position yourself for the best possible outcome under extremely uncertain circumstances. Involved parents know what their children think, feel, and do. Be that parent.