“Their anger hurts my ears, been running strong for seven years
Rather than fix the problems, they never solve them, it makes no sense at all
I see them everyday, we get along so why can’t they?
If this is what he wants, and it’s what she wants, then why is there so much pain?” Blink 182, “Stay Together For The Kids”
Raising a child with another parent with whom you are no longer, or ever were, married to or romantically involved with presents challenges unique to family law. Two people are both parents to the same child(ren), yet not only live separate lives, but often are at war with each other, or at the very least, do not get along. How will these two separate people manage to both raise the same child(ren) both together and apart?
This may be a surprise to some, but in custody matters, family law court judges are only concerned about one thing: The best interests of the child. Family Code section 3011 mandates courts to consider the “health, safety, and welfare” of the children, and will make orders with this in mind. In other words, your drama, your problems, your issues with each other have no place in the courtroom. However, your drama, your problems, your issues with each other will be front and center when the judge deals with you in a custody dispute.
There is a lot of emotion and stress involved in separating families and putting new orders in place to reflect the changed dynamic. It is more difficult when both parents want different things and cannot agree on the next course of action for the kids, and fight with each other and put each other down to prove their side.
How do judges maneuver their duties to administer fair and impartial rulings with their obligations to protect the child’s best interests? There are a number of ways in which a court can make warring parents address their issues:
- One way is for the judge to order each parent to participate in individual therapy.
- The judge can also order one or both parents to participate in conjoint therapy with the child.
- Another way is for the judge to order both parents to attend parenting classes, either separately or with each other.
- The judge can limit communication by the parties to applications such as “Our Family Wizard” or “Talking Parents”.
- In extreme cases, the court can order “third party placement” and remove the child from the custody of both parents to a third person
Be aware that should you find yourself in front of a judge fighting over custody of your kid(s), the judge will be made aware of the way in which you have been conducting yourself. Even if it has been out of anger, hurt, and frustration, the focus is the effect your conduct has had or is having on the children, and the court will have no sympathy for your feelings.
So you can wait for a judge to point out your shortcomings and order you to take steps to learn and do better, or you can take the initiative and try to address them yourself. You can seek out help from a therapist. You can take online parenting courses that focus on co-parenting in high conflict. You can find a therapist for your child to start helping them cope with the break-up of their family. You can start conjoint therapy with your child to address their issues and hear their voices. You can start listening to the other parent and try to begin a conflict-free relationship, to the best of your ability and tailored to the circumstances.
You cannot control how the other parent acts or reacts, but you can control how you do. It may be difficult, but both parents will have to figure out how to communicate with each other and put their child’s needs first. It isn’t easy, but you can do it, and your kids are worth it.