Surviving a Child Custody Battle: Dr. Benna Strober Mt. Kisco, NY

It is the hope that for divorcing parents there can be an agreed upon division of time between both parents to raise their children. The two biggest complaints I hear from the children I see whose family is either divorced or going through the process is about the fighting and the back and forth shuttling they experience going between two homes.

A small percentage of divorcing parents have extenuating circumstances that may bring them to a very costly and emotionally draining process known as a child custody evaluation. In this case, both parents are fighting for sole custody of their children because they feel the other parent has some issues that negatively affect their child’s well-being.

They are now leaving their destiny and that of their children in the hands of the court system and the judge. A custody evaluator is assigned, as is an attorney for the children who will then offer information to the judge after a (hopefully) thorough investigation into the lives of both parents and of the children.

The following are 10 must do’s for surviving a child custody battle.

1. Make a Good First Impression.  Whether the custody evaluator comes to your home or you go to her office for your first meeting, make sure you and your home are presentable. No one is asking for you to have fresh, baked bread in the oven or a floor you could eat off of, but straighten up, make the beds, take a shower and un-wrinkle your blouse. Have games or activities set up for your kids to do instead of putting them in front of the television.  Evaluators usually recall their first and last meetings the most clearly of all.

2. Be Honest. It is in yours and your child’s best interest to be honest with the evaluator. Lying will get you nowhere and the evaluator is trained to look for untruths. If you lie it will most likely hurt your case.

3. Do not try to be “perfect” for the evaluator. You will probably be asked to complete certain questionnaires as well as interact with your children in front of the evaluator. If you respond to every question in a positive manner, for example, if asked, “How often does your child annoy you?” and you respond, “Never” this will certainly be a red flag as to the accuracy of your responses. It is okay to admit that your kids drive you crazy sometimes.

4. Save important documents regarding your children/parenting, etc and keep them organized. If there are certain documents you know the evaluator will want to see you should keep them well organized and labeled. These might include school and medical records. The more documents the evaluator has to go through the more time it takes and the more money you will wind up spending. If your ex has a police record, or you have a restraining order, or there is documentation of your ex behaving inappropriately with your children you should share this with the evaluator.

5. Keep a calendar of events, incidents, phone calls or visits missed, etc anything you think might be important, even if you are not sure, write it down! Many people think they will remember a specific incident, particularly if it is something meaningful to their case, however, these evaluations take time and you might forget an important detail later on that is then lost if you do not write it down.

6. Keep correspondences between you and your ex to a minimum. If the tensions are already running high between you and your ex, it is best to interact only when necessary. The saying “It takes two to tango” applies here. Remember, just as you are saving all important documents, your ex is as well. Don’t send anything in writing to your ex out of anger that might hurt you later on in a custody evaluation.

7. Check with your attorney about any questions you may have during the process. Your attorney is there to guide you through the process and, knows a lot more about the intricacies of the law than you do. When in doubt, go to the expert.

8. Realize the evaluator is not your enemy and is not “out to get you.” Nor is she your friend.Don’t think that by “chumming it up” with the evaluator that she will lean more in your favor. Also, try not to be too wary and nervous with the evaluator so she doesn’t get to see the “real you.” The evaluator is there to assess the best fit for your children. This is not a popularity contest.

9. Remember, this is about your parenting and relationship with your children. Try to differentiate between that and your failed relationship with your ex. You are better off spending your time you have with the evaluator speaking of your relationship with your children instead of spending it bashing your ex. He will have his own opportunity to speak with her as well. If you show the evaluator how you are the best fit for your children it will go a lot further than trying to show what a bad fit their father is for them. However, if you have legitimate concerns about your ex’s parenting skills it is important to convey that to the evaluator.

10. Be Yourself! In the end, the best advice I can give is to be yourself. Remember the goal here is to show the evaluator and the court that you are the best fit for your children as a parent and you only have their best interests in mind. If you truly believe this it will shine through and the evaluator will be able to share her observations of the loving, and sometimes hectic (normal) interactions every family has. Trying to be someone you are not will not only not help you, it might hurt your case in the end.

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