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ADVICE FOR CUSTODY CLIENTS

You are in custody litigation. This is intended to give you basic information about what you can – and can’t – do if you want to enhance your chances of success.

Communicate with your spouse

Try to discuss your child’s welfare with your spouse. Limit your discussion to the child’s welfare. Don’t discuss your new boyfriend or girlfriend or your anger with the spouse – it’s counterproductive. If you cannot discuss these matters with your spouse, write the spouse a letter or e-mail. Save a copy.

Dating

This is addressed from a practical, not moral, stance. You are still married, and you will be until the judge dissolves your marriage. Terminate or put on hold any extramarital relationship. If the new boyfriend or girlfriend cares about you enough, he or she will wait for you. If not, so be it. You need to concentrate on maintaining and developing your relationship with your children. You do not have the time or money right now for affairs. That time will come later, after this case is closed. If you perceive the extramarital relationship to be a very stable one leading to marriage, and you elect to ignore this advice, remember that you have been warned.

Do not involve the paramour in your child’s life. Regardless of how much the new love object purportedly cares for your child, limit your contact with that person to times when the child is with the other parent. Your paramour’s lifestyle, behavior, marital status, and indeed relationship with his or her own children will come under scrutiny in your custody case.

Medical Care

Elective, non-emergency medical care should be undertaken only after consultation with the child’s other parent. If the parent refuses to discuss this with you, let that parent know the name of the service provider, the procedures undertaken, and the diagnosis. Don’t keep the child’s medical care a secret from the other parent.

School

If you’re the physical custodian, let the other parent know when parent-teacher conferences are scheduled. Give the other parent a copy of the child’s report care. Share the child’s schoolwork with the other parent. Discuss with the other parent homework and school responsibilities the child may have.

If you’re the noncustodial parent, you have the right to contact the school and ask that you be contacted about parent-teacher conferences and the child’s school records. Do so.  Don’t place all of the responsibility on your spouse. Take an active part in the child’s education.

Visitation

If you are the custodian, have the children ready for the visit. Have a supply of suitable clothing ready to accompany the child. You don’t want the judge to learn that you let your child go off on a weekend visit with only the clothes he or she was wearing and plastic bag with one change of clothes.

As a single parent, you need a break from the child. And the child needs a break from you. In an intact family, parents relieve each other from the constant demands of the child. In a divorce situation, the appropriate relief is visitation with the other parent.

If you are the noncustodial parent, pick up and return the child on time. If you’re going to unexpectedly late, call. Don’t demand that the child keep toys and clothing at your house just because you purchased them. After all, those items are the child’s not yours.

A child’s illness, short of his or her being hospitalized, is no excuse for denyhing visitation. The noncustodial parent can and should assume some of the responsibility for caring for a sick child.

Do not use the child as an intermediary to carry messages between you and your spouse. You’re an adult. You know how to communicate.

Visitation is not a time to revisit disputes with your spouse. It’s your time with your child. Us e it for that. Do not pump your child for information about life in the other parent’s home. If it’s worth telling, the child will tell you. Did you tell your parents everything that went on when you were 8 or 12 years old? Remember how you replied “Oh, nothing” to your mother when she asked you what you did in school?

Do not ask your child to keep secrets about what takes place in your home.

You do not have the right to refuse visitation because the other parent hasn’t paid child support. The two issues are not related. You have a remedy for nonpayment of child support; you can lose physical care of your child if you deny court-ordered visitation.

Don’t get too upset about your child’s behavior at the beginning or end of each visit. The physical custodian views the child’s cries at the end of a visit as the joy of being reunited with the parent; the same outburst is viewed by the noncustodial parent as sadness at the separation. Plan some kind of activity to allow the child to “wind down.”

It’s not the end of the world if the child misses a Little League game or Sunday school because it took place during the other spouse’s time with the child.

Child Support

If you are ordered to pay child support during the pendency of this action, pay it. If you simply can’t make the full payment, make a partial payment. The judge will not look kindly upon your claim for increased visitation or physical care when you have failed to contribute to the child’s support.

Child support is money you have paid to the court (if an ordered has been entered) or money paid directly to your spouse for the child’s support. Child support is not a Schwinn bicycle or Mike shoes that you bought for the child during the weekend visit. It is the money that puts bread on the table and pays the rent.

Counseling

Divorce is tough. It’s kind of like death, without condolence cards. As much as it hurts, it’s not fatal. Go to a mental health professional. It’s often easier to discuss your feeling with someone you’ll never see again, someone who’ll not say “I told you so.” Therapy will not be held against you in court. In fact, the court could well look positively on the fact that you sought therapy.

 Parenting

You can never learn enough about parenting. It’s an ongoing process. Enroll in a parenting class. Read about child care, child development, and parenting techniques. Show the judge that you know something about parenting and that you have a willingness to learn.

Telling the Child about Divorce

Your child knows more about what’s going on in his or her life than you may realize. You do not need to go into details about the reasons the marriage is ending, but you do need to talk about it. A number of children’s books, geared to varying ages and reading levels, discuss divorce and single parenting. Go through them with your child.

 Adjustments

Remember when you first became pregnant? You were filled with worry and doubt about what your life was going to be like. Your friends and relatives all gave you advice. But when you actually went through childbirth and bringing the new baby home, your feelings were unique. Divorce is much the same. Although everybody’s case has common threads, the actual experience for each is unique.

As a divorcing parent, you are making the same adjustments in your life day by day as you did as a new parent. Be the best parent that you can be. Try to be a good example for your child in all aspects of your life. Your child will undoubtedly end a love relationship or quit a job sometime in his or her life. The example you give your child as a divorcing parent is as important as the rest of the good examples  you try to give your child.

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