The battle for child custody is ugly. Parents fight for the right to gain custody of the child. Some of the most pathetic and sad stories of the American family are sometimes displayed in full public view in American courtrooms. The child always caught in the middle –helpless.
The legal standard that judges use when parents fight over their children is the “best interest” standard. The Court determines custody based on what is in the “best interest” of the child. However, in reality, we see often that parents appear to forget about the child’s interest. In Court, it often becomes a mudslinging contest between the mother and the father. Sad but true. See for yourself. Go into a family court room - any family court room- and listen to the parents. Listen to how they plead their case. Listen to how they complain about the need to be with their children. Listen to their gripe about having to drive and pay for gas to pick up their kids. They whine about not getting this or not getting that. All of the sudden, it’s about the hardship of the parent. The child no longer matters.
Parents have the right to fight for custody of their beloved child. But when the child is used as an instrument to hurt or to retaliate against the other parent, the child suffers. Parents who forget about this may wage an all out war to gain custody. They will scream and curse and act in obnoxious ways trying to convince the court the he or she can best care for the child.
California has a policy of attempting to assure that the minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents. The Court has broad powers to make other orders related to the welfare of the child. And some good judges always remind the parents that child custody is not a fight between them. It is not a grudge match. It is trying to figure out the best possible parenting plan so that the child can grow as normal as possible despite the obvious hardships in having separated parents.
In many jurisdictions, parents are ordered to attend mediation in an attempt to settle their differences. The court may order counseling for parents with custody disputes. But despite the structured court procedures; the “best interest” standard is often ignored by resentful parents.
What parents must understand is that a child custody proceeding is not about them. It is a time when all responsible adults must resolve to agree for the “best interest” of the child. It is a time for civility and respect and to focus on the child’s interest. Parents may not agree with the system or the rules, but for the sake of the child, selflessness is warranted. It’s time to have big heart and an open mind. Realize that any child caught in the middle of a divorce suffers emotional pain. And the wounds may run deep.
When facing a potential child custody dispute, resolve to create a parenting plan amicably. Talk about how the child can retain as much contact with both parents. Be specific about when and how much time the child will spend with each parent. Discuss the quality of the child’s life as he or she adjusts to a new life. If the child is mature enough, be honest and truthful about the situation. You, the parents, don’t have to agree. But you will need to get along somehow. You will need to find a way to communicate and co-exist. For as long as you live, you will be both parents to that child.
Lazaro Law Group, Managing Attorney