What happens when you find yourself in the middle of a custody fight?
Is this something that you ever thought would happen to you?
Sometimes it is inevitable in certain cases dealing with children’s issues that they turn into a custody fight. It is usually not expected and almost never wanted. However, it does happen. Why does it happen so often? Well, both parents want the same thing. They both want the child.
The love of the child may cause people to act in ways they have never acted in their whole lives. Divorce attorneys see it every single day.
Sometimes it can also prompt some people to fight for their children to make ensure that the children’s best interests are taken into account. In these types of situations where the parent is truly looking out for the best interest of the minor child a custody battle may be warranted if it is not in the best interests for the other parent to have a majority of the time, and the other side will not agree to be reasonable and look out for the best interest of the child.
Parties can only reach an agreement when both parents are on board. This is a legal system in which agreements can be set aside and therefore such agreements must be entered into knowingly and willfully. So therefore both parties must come together in a meeting of the minds in order to form this agreement on how to handle the time- sharing of their minor children.
If the parents are unable to agree on what is in the best interests of the children then sometimes the parties feel that it is appropriate to have a third person make that decision, or assist them in making the decision.
One option is to use an expert who is trained in evaluating time- sharing, custody, parenting plans and contact with the minor children and the parent. This expert can be a social worker or psychologist but foremost has to understand the family law issues and factors that go into child custody and the time-sharing determinations. This article is written in Hillsborough County, Florida therefore it follows Florida statute 61.13, which dictates the factors the court will use to decide a time-sharing and a parenting plan.
Some factors are the facilitation of time-sharing and if one parent is likely to facility the time-sharing with the other parent. Another more factor includes making educational decisions and which parent has historically made those decisions. Other factors include domestic violence, child and sexual abuse, and related issues to the time-sharing with the minor children and the parents.
So therefore the expert may make a similar determination as the court would and sometimes they can make this the primary determination before the court even look at the issues.
Some judges are very receptive to theses evaluations and find it very helpful to the court in determining what is in the best interests of the children. However, if the evaluator does not follow the appropriate methods their recommendation is not as helpful, and the court will give little weight to the evaluation in its determination. These experts may testify at a final hearing and can be deposed, but their overall purpose and charge is to create a report and recommendation that details what the time-sharing and parenting plan should be. This recommendation can be extremely helpful to the Trier of Fact (the judge).
However, sometimes even with the assistance of an expert the parties are still unable to come to an agreement. That is when the judge makes the decision. In theses circumstance the expert may come to the court to testify or in other circumstances the parties will not use an expert to look at the child custody situation and the court must make the determination on their own with the assistance of the presented witnesses and the evidence.
The parties have to understand that just as they are human so is the Judge. Judges are human and therefore the only thing the judges can rely on is what is in front of them during that final hearing. The cannot read minds, they cannot tell the future and they cannot decide on evidence that is not presented to them.
If the final hearing only lasts a few hours it is very clear the parties will be in their Sunday best, acting their best, bringing in witnesses that will say they are the best parent possible, and generally in a normal child custody battle, they will be stating that it is not in the best interest of the minor child for the other parent to have primary residence or the majority of the time-sharing. So the courts, who are learned in this regard and understand this “best image” process, want to determine in light of the evidence and witnesses that are presented at the final hearing what is in the best interests of the minor children and not solely what one party has said about the other.
Because many of these hearings come down to a “he said-she said,” argument where one side said something and the other side said the complete opposite, the court has to make a determination on who is correct and who is incorrect or untruthful. The court will normally be able to do this by weighing third party testimony or evidence the evidence presented to them. This is why it is very important in a child custody battle or fight which occurs through litigation to present witnesses and evidence that supports your case.
Your Judge cannot see into your home.
Your Judge does not know how you act with your child.
Your Judge may not speak to your child (unless appropriate motions are filed and granted, under certain circumstances) and therefore does not have the same view point on the situation that either: (1) the parents could if they were able come to an agreement on their own, or (2) that an expert could see since the expert is able to speak to the child, to other family members, to both parties and review all types of evidence that the court may not be able to in this legal context.
So this author feels that while there may be some cases where there is no other option but trial and a custody battle in which the judge ultimately decides, the vast majority of cases are ready and able to be settled.
When both parties take a good long hard look in the mirror at themselves, the situation, and especially at their children, most times they are able to come to the realization that they can settle this issue; without the court as a third party judge, who will most likely never see them again but will have to dictate how the next eighteen years or however many years until the child reaches the age of majority to them. So it is always suggested that the parties do everything in their power to mediate and attempt to cooperatively settle these issues for the children, even if it is with the use of a neutral child custody expert.
There are studies that suggest, as would seem to be painfully clear, that divorce litigation, custody litigation, custody fights, and just the overall litigious nature that many couples exhibit towards each other are not conducive for the child’s development, for their upbringing, in their relationships with their parents, with friends, or in their future relationships. So therefore it is of the utmost importance for parents to at all times during custody litigation and during custody “fights” to take into extreme care the children’s best interests. That means keeping the children out of it.
The children in this regard, especially young children, feel that the divorce is their fault. Often, as they get older they seem to want to blame it on someone and later in life feel they want to blame it on both parents. There are many different stages that the child may go through during a divorce and it is always a trying and emotional time for them.
Custody fights are not easy.
They are extremely complicated.
Everyone is emotional and there is no easy answer or recipe for success. Every single party is different, every single child is different, and every single judge is different so therefore what works in one situation is not necessarily what will work the next time.
Therefore, the very first thing the parents must do is try to settle through mediation and negotiation without putting the issue before the judge. Then if the parents are unable to settle on their own they may choose to have an expert come in and evaluate their specific situation and recommend a custody arrangement prior to bringing the issue up before the judge. If neither option is appropriate for the parties’ situation then the case must go to trial and a stranger, the judge, will do their job and apply the law to the facts presented to them.
The parties must be prepared, must be ready, and must understand that the judge’s review and determination may be a painful experience, but that the parties have exhausted every other option before requesting this and felt that going forward to trial was in the best interests of the minor child.
Article originally written in 2012. By William S. Foley, PA. All rights reserved. Custody Lawyer, Family Law Attorney William S Foley Blog Article: Help! I am in the middle of a custody fight