Navigating Child Custody With Your Children

Child custody battles can be messy, and it can feel like your walking on glass when it comes to things. But what about our children? It’s hard enough to go through a child custody battle with a bitter ex, willing to drag out dirty laundry and proceedings, at the end of the day our children still need us for comfort and support.

They need to know that you are there and you’re looking out for them during things. It’s easy to let the court proceedings to overshadow all else, but during this time, it’s imperative that you are supporting your children mentally and emotionally during these trying times. This post walks you through the best ways to help anchor your kids while your family navigates the choppy waters of a rough custody battle.

There’s no way around it: “Child custody battles are intense, emotionally charged affairs in which both parties are relentlessly scrutinized by attorneys, lawyers, and the system itself. It’s an expensive and grueling process, with parent-child relationships on the line and fathers under particular pressure to watch what they say and how they behave during the process” (Scheinbaum, 2020).

It’s no secret that child custody battles can play an unhealthily large role in the lives of you and your children during the legalities. Many parents don’t quite know how to approach things when it comes to your kids, and rightfully so… with so much going on it’s hard to know when to separate yourself from the legal and come back into reality with your children.

Always Give Mediation a Shot

Child custody mediation (sometimes called “conciliation”) is always worth a shot, suggests Dean Tong, a veteran of his own custody battle who consults as an expert in child custody battles. “The rules of civil procedure and family law don’t necessarily require it” but finding a soft spot in your ex’s heart might be your best shot as “women and mothers win child custody in eight out of ten cases” (Sheinbaum, 2013).

Hire The Right Attorney

Make sure that you start things off right, and hire an attorney that understands your goals and will level with you honestly about the odds of you achieving them. This is hands down one of the most important factors in your child custody case. Every situation is different and hiring an attorney that is familiar with the unique circumstances of your case will make it easier for everyone in the long run.

Keep communication open about all issues concerning the situation, and ensure that the attorney that you choose is able to not only work with other attorneys but also with your family. Consider the age of your children, we assume that our children will never have to meet our attorney but it’s important to know your attorney would be able to work well with your child as well if need be. Children can be called in to talk with your attorney as well, so it’s important to know that you’ve got one who is willing to do so.

Remember, a child custody attorney can help you reach a settlement or protect yourself in court – but the task of protecting your children’s emotional health falls on you.

Consider Your Child’s Age

Having conversations about divorce, separation and child custody proceedings with children is never easy no matter what ages your children are. It’s important to communicate to your children that the ensuing legal issues are not their fault.

“Parents of young children should prepare to be patient. Young kids may need to have information repeated several times and in several different ways” (DuBois & Parlette, n.d.). Practicing a few different ways to explain things to your children is never a bad thing.

After the split or initial stages of a child custody battle, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your kids are immune or oblivious to your mood, language, or actions. If your children are able to talk, know that they will repeat what they hear and see to the other parent, conduct yourself accordingly. Even if your child isn’t verbal yet, they can pick up on the negativity expressed when venting to your significant other or friend about your ex’s undesirable behavior.

When breaking the news to older children or teenagers, your might be tempted to have a “heart-to-heart”. Don’t. Oversharing is NOT caring. “They may have already picked up on tension between you and your ex and may be more keyed into the situation, asking deeper questions” keep any blame and legal talk out of your discussion (DuBois & Parlette, n.d.).

Keep Your Emotions Under Control

Because the other side is looking for any way to make you look bad, it’s crucial to keep your emotions under control, advises Kirby Ingles, a veteran of his own child custody battle (Scheinbaum, C., 2020). “In his experience, a judge noted in his ruling the apparent emotional reaction not each party during the legal proceedings. The judge didn’t say how exactly he factored those into the final ruling, but Ingles says he’s sure it somehow entered into the ruling” (Scheinbaum, 2020).

Judges and attorneys are keen on bringing in evaluation of each parent’s emotional state before, during, and after a custody battle. Make sure you’re seeing a therapist if you’re having a rough time dealing with things. Having an emotional outlet is crucial to your survival during a horrid custody battle.

Answer Your Kids’ Questions Honestly

“Answering your children’s questions with honesty and integrity helps to provide stability in an emotional upheaval” (DuBois & Parlette, n.d.). Your kids should know they can turn to you for answers to any problem, and that they can come to you for answers to difficult questions. Remember that the way you speak to them about the custody battle is how they will talk to others about it. Pick and choose language carefully and watch what you say, words can cause a lot of damage if used incorrectly.

If possible both parents should be there to talk to the children about divorce and separation, but this is highly unlikely when talking about a custody battle. Your kids deserve the truth… but not always the whole truth. Whether your kids are 7 or 17, it’s never appropriate to discuss all things parental with them. They don’t need to know everything about your custody battle, and chances are, they’d rather not.

Reassure Your Child

No matter the age of your child, they know when things are different. Children can tell when their parents are under considerable stress, and can pick up on the changes that are occuring. “Reassure your child, in terms he or she can understand, that both of you still love them very much and are trying to figure out what is best for them – even though you do not yet agree on what that is” (Mushkatel, 2013).

Don’t Use the Children as Pawns

“Your kids shouldn’t be used as weapons or tools,” says Tong. “And at all costs keep them out of the courtroom and off the witness stand.” Pleasant childhood memories aren’t derived from giving a court testimony. Keep your cool, never berate, denigrate, or vilify the opposing litigants in front of the children (Scheinbaum, 2020).

In fact, just keep them out of it completely. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the who’s the “better” parent battle. That won’t get you anywhere though. Children naturally love both of their parents, and they shouldn’t be put in the position of having one parent berate the other in order to gain popularity. Not only is it wrong, but it’s unnecessary and will cause more damage to the relationship between you and your child. Kids want to love both of their parents, and it’s never good to pit one against the other. It’s best just not to say too much to the kids about what’s happening (Scheinbaum, 2020).

Encourage Relationships

Your children need both parents, and they need parents who understand this. Encourage your child to maintain a relationship with his or her other parent. In doing so, you are fighting against parental alienation. Encourage your children to speak to his or her other parent regularly, support their efforts to do so by scheduling phone or Skype times, and show up on time for visits and other activities.

Give Space For Big Feelings – Especially Anger

Just as you may be angry with your ex for the impending child custody battle, and upset in visitation or plans, your kids may feel angry about life changes they are suddenly dealing with as well. Provide them with a place to vent their frustrations. Explore emotions with them and talk about what they’re feeling and thinking. Allow them to open up about hard to deal with situations and issues – without contributing to their concerns and discomfort. Give them permission to process their feelings – not just in the first discussion, but long-term, as they deal with the ongoing effects of the custody arrangement. Keep an open dialogue by asking questions and inviting them to talk about their feelings.

What made you happy/sad today?

What was your favorite thing that happened this week?

What are you looking forward to (or least looking forward to) next week?

Don’t Make Them Your Confidant

There’s a time to share your story, and it’s not when you’re on mom/dad duty. Ultimately it comes down to two things: First you are discussing your child’s other parent, with whom they share half their DNA with and who they should always be encouraged to have a relationship with. Second, it looks terrible in court. “No judge will look favorably on a parent dishing out details to their kid. Go to therapy, join a support group, or have a daily/weekly vent session with your best friend. Do whatever you need to do to not involve your kids in the drama” (DuBois & Parlette, n.d.).

Surround Them With Support

No one can love your kids like you can, but during a custody battle love is not all you need. Bring your children’s teachers, principal, and supportive staff at school into the loop on what’s happening at home. Therapists play an important role in the support system for your children and can also play an integral role during your child custody case. Expert guidance from child therapists can be helpful in learning how to support your children best.

Provide space for your kids to spend lots and lots of time with friends; playdates with familiar buddies create a time to connect with mom/dad friends and give the kids time away from the craziness which is child custody. If your children are older be mindful of who they are spending time with. The stresses of child custody battles can prompt substance abuse, mental health issues, and physical dangers – seek guidance from a therapist for yourself and insist on counseling for your teen children (DuBois & Parlette, n.d.).

Keep Kids Out Of The Middle

Give your kids space to process, without imposing on their needs or priorities. Be understanding of situations which may come up that your children may need extra support during. Going back and forth from house to house can be stressful, especially during a custody battle. Understand that your children may not be up to plans you’ve created and paid for, and that they may require time alone instead. Keeping your needs, opinions, and goals to yourself is one of the best ways to support your kids during a custody battle or split (DuBois & Parlette, n.d.).

Going between houses can feel a lot like traveling, and it takes a lot out of your kids. Show your children you understand what they’re going through by being as supportive as you can be of their decisions. Don’t lecture on wasted money, broken plans or commitments, and anti-socialness. These things are a normal part of coping with stressful situations. Instead, provide your children with acceptance.

Release Your Anger Elsewhere

It can be very tempting to derogate or deride your former spouse, his or her family, or other parties involved in the divorce or child custody case, especially when you’re angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed. However it’s best if you don’t in front of your children. Remember that you’re talking about their parents and family members and doing so puts them in a terribly awkward situation. They love these people, and can in turn feel as though they need to play the defensive. Avoid this and find someone else to confide in. Release your anger among trusted friends, with a therapist, or even alone, rather then to or in front of your child.

Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

It’s a cliche and a safety instruction for good reasons. “You absolutely cannot show up for your children if you are not prioritizing your emotional and mental well-being. Making time to take care of yourself – sleeping, relaxing, spending time with friends, going to therapy – is not a luxury” (DuBois & Parlette, n.d.). It’s the most important thing you can do to make sure that you’re 100% present and level headed for your children. Raising kids is hard, even under the best of circumstances. Battling it out in court with your ex over your children is one of the most stressful environments a parent could be in. Parenting under immense pressure makes every day chores like laundry and homework seem insurmountable. So take care of you, that way you can take care of them.

Let Time Do Its Work

Regardless of how much money and time is spent in court, your child could very well be the one to decide the outcome. So let time do its work. Let the suits and black robes do what they do in a custody dispute, and you spend time with your children. Go to the park, do arts and crafts that you’ve been putting off for a rainy day. Take them when you run errands, stop off at the park and for ice cream, watch movies and go on walks together.

Don’t forget you’re still making memories with your child. This time doesn’t have to be the stressful mess that it feels like in court, all the time. Bring the zen to your household, trying not to let everything that’s going on affect the time you have with your children in the meantime. Don’t bring things up if they’re not thinking about it. Allow the outside world to fall away and encourage peace and love.

What things have you done to make things easier with your children during child custody battles? Have you tried any of these tips? Share in the comments below!

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DuBois, E., & Parlette, M., (n.d.), Preparing Your Kids for a Custody Battle

Mushkatel, Z., (June 18, 2013), How to Protect Your Children During a Custody Battle

Scheinbaum, C., (March 26, 2020), 8 Tips for Dads in Child Custody Battles, According to Fathers Who’ve Been There

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