February 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

The maelstrom of conflict between parents in a divorce or custody battle often catches up the children and dashes them against the same rocks that brought the marriage to destruction. Even the mildest custody conflict can damage children and their relationships with one or both parents, but the injury can be severe when the conflict is intense and where one or both parties bring the children into the vortex. 

As an attorney, you stand in a position to influence your clients to minimize the damage. Here are some thoughts to share with your custody clients:

  • A custody dispute is not about winning or losing. Custody is decided on the basis of what is in the best interest of the children. No matter what the judge decides, his or her decision will be based on what is best for the children. Help your client understand the Albright factors, how they apply in her case, and how to maximize her strong points while minimizing her exposure on the weak points.  
  • Hate and revenge do not help. If your client’s motivation for custody is hate and/or revenge, he will be operating under a considerable disadvantage because (1) those are not positive factors under Albright for custody, and (2) they communicate to the children that they are spoils of war to be won instead of children who are to be loved no matter what the controversy is between the parents.
  • Never allow the children to make the custody decision. Children do not know what is best for them. They are subject to all sorts of influences, the strongest of which appeal to what they believe they want. It is appropriate to ask a mature child’s opinion, but only as input, never as a final decision. The parent or lawyer who tells a child “You will get to decide when you reach x age” is doing the child a great disservice because the law never gives the child a right to finally decide; that decision is always up to the judge. Children who are made to decide often feel that they have betrayed one parent or the other. Making a child decide is putting the child squarely in the middle of the conflict.
  • Children who are placed in the middle learn to manipulate. Parents who put their children in the middle usually find that the children become master manipulaters, playing both sides against each other to gain whatever it is that the child wants or thinks he wants.
  • Putting the children in the middle complicates the case. When the parties put the children in the middle, the resulting conflict spawns contempts, modifications, more discovery about all kinds of perpheral matters, and adds expense, stress, conflict and injured relationships to everyone’s plates.
  • Drop the drama. The only enjoyable thing about a divorce or custody battle for most people is the attention and sympathy they derive from others over the suffering and pain they are having to endure. So when they find their friends’ and family’s attention wandering, they will ramp up the drama to regain the spotlight. That’s self-defeating because it usually takes some kind of negative action to stimulate the other side into conflict. The best and most productive policy is to drop the drama and act like an adult and a caring parent. 
  • Act like an adult. The best behavior you can model for your children is to act like an adult. Treat the other party with the respect he or she deserves as parent of your child. Eschew juvenile name-calling. Turn your back on invitations to argue. Avoid sarcasm and profanity. No threats, veiled or otherwise. Your children are watching and learning from your every move.

Lawyers are in a superior position to advise clients about where to expect to find pitfalls and landmines as they navigate the no-man’s land of child custody litigation. Don’t be reticent when it comes to guiding your clients and even bringing them up short whan they get out of line. That’s part of what you’re there for.

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