Choosing whether to proceed in court with a custody dispute is serious business. It affects your spouse, who you may be trying to deny custody altogether, but most especially, it affects your child or children, who may be forced to grow up without their birth father or mother as an active player in their on-going development. These are not simple issues. They have deep and life-spanning ramifications.
I have to admit, even as a professional divorce attorney in Los Angeles with years of experience in both divorce law and family mediation, I often am emotionally drained after a family mediation session. You can’t let emotions sway you in delicate situations like these. That’s why I’ve included here a short divorce custody self-assessment. There are a series of questions that you should answer before deciding to go through with any child custody battle.
It’s probably the most frequently asked custody question I get: should I go through with it? I can’t tell you yay or nay–each person should decide that on their own–but like any other professional you will talk to, I can give you some information to help you educate yourself and your family to prepare you to make that all-important decision.
Number one: It’s about the children, their security and their safety. This should be first and foremost on your mind. This isn’t a self-righteous step, this is one where you need to wield an unbiased authority. This is a step that must be taken because all other roads lead to a dead end.
Ask yourself these questions: Have I done everything in my power to resolve this with my family? Have I tried to resolve this? Have I tried mediation and participated in good faith? Has the process I have taken been the best and most efficient? Have I chosen the right professionals to come in and look at our case? This could include doctors, accountants, attorneys, psychologists, etc. Will they represent my family’s best interests, and not their own? Most importantly, do I go into this with confidence and trust? Am I prepared?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to these, so far, so good. You are on your way. You’ve prepared, completed the leg work and done the research. You’ve documented your concerns on paper, addressed them with the appropriate parties and have so far shown a respectful, yet confident demeanor in and out of the courtroom. One-by-one these add up to your authoritative stance, one that is not wrought with emotion and self-righteousness, but one that is calm and collected and rooted in what is best for your child.
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Have I closely monitored my children throughout this whole process? Have I been able to gauge their reactions and observe their demeanor for signs of stress, emotional or physical? Have they been able to keep a good perspective throughout this separation process? Have I resisted the temptation to bad-mouth my spouse in front of them, or otherwise try to use them to gain favor in this dispute? As we said before, the child is the most important part of this process. You have to be sure not to put them in the middle of things: this isn’t their doing. They deserve to be treated with utmost respect and concern. If this is a difficult process for you, imagine what it is like for them, having to seemingly choose sides between two people they have loved their whole lives.
Which is why the next questions are difficult: Have I not lost the reason for why I am doing this? Have I done anything to undermine the other parent’s authority when dealing with my children? Am I willing to bear the burden of causing them the pain of separation between them and the other parent? Am I subsequently willing to work with them every step of the way to ensure that this pain is ameliorated?
If you, as a parent challenging custody, are trying to cut a parent from your child’s lives, you must remember that as a result, you may get more time with them, but you also get less of them, because part of them has also been cut away.