One of the most important factors a Judge considers when devising a custody plan is determining whether both parents are fit to have custody. As a general rule, the Court is interested in keeping both parents present in the child’s life and encouraging co-parenting as much as possible. Some situations, however, warrant an alternative arrangement, and the Court has a number of tools to choose from depending on the specific circumstance.
Situations that deter the Court from using shared or partial custody arrangements are probably as you would expect- illegal drug use, abuse, and just about any other illegal activity. The Court will determine an appropriate plan given the specific circumstance, always putting the child’s best interest first. If the Court does deem a parent unfit for custody, the other parent is likely to be granted primary custody subject to periodic visits from the other parent. As an example, if one party has a history of alcohol abuse and drunk driving, the Court can rule that the other party shall have primary custody with the parent struggling with alcohol abuse having only supervised visits.
Now, before delving much further, I think it is important to note a few things. Custody cases can be messy and situations when one parent attempts to sabotage the other by making false accusations arise all the time. I would strongly advise against this as the Court is designed to determine the truth. That is to say that if you accuse the other party of drug abuse, they will be subject to a drug test. While there is no specific penalty for making false accusations, you risk your own credibility if you perpetually accuse the other side of something they can prove otherwise. Saying things you believe will make the other party look bad will only end up reflecting poorly on yourself. You do not want to “cry wolf”, so while you do need to raise issues, only raise issues of genuine concern.
A basic misconception about custody cases is the assumption that a custody schedule is set in stone. Many individuals feel a sense of doom whenever an issue is exposed that leads them to lose custody, but it is important to remember that custody is always subject to modification, even in cases where a Court once deemed one of the parties unfit for custody. Judges actually respond very positively to the rehabilitated parent because after all, rehabilitation is the goal. While the rehabilitated parent may not get an evenly shared custody schedule right away, a Judge can arrange a “step-up” schedule, where they gradually gain more custody time.
So what can you do to help your chances of getting custody back once you have lost it?
- Clean up your act and do whatever the Court suggests. Maybe the Judge suggested going to counseling or a rehabilitation facility. Pay attention and complete the necessary steps.
- Really consider what the other party is saying, especially if there is truth in their words. Your strained relationship with your child’s other parent is likely what has brought you to Court to begin with, so working on your relationship and really listening to their complaints will help you to lay the foundations of successful co-parenting. Also keep in mind that it is possible they may even be willing to agree to an outside-of-court custody arrangement.
- Be patient. None of this will happen overnight, and the length of time really depends upon the infraction. Just be persistent in your rehabilitation and work to improve on the areas that the Court (or other party) found fault.
Given enough time and rehabilitation, the outlook can certainly be a positive one, even if the present moment is not.
Now let’s say you are the other parent, and you have just been granted primary custody. You are either really excited and feeling like you “won” (if so, please see the previous blog entitled “Let’s All Just Get Along: The Key to Winning a Custody Battle”) or you aren’t quite sure how to feel. Naturally, you are happy, but on the other hand you feel sad, or even guilty. Regardless of the situation, something to remember is that you will always have to co-parent so long as the other party is living, even if you were granted full custody. Even if the other party has zero visits with your child. Even if the other party has zero visits with your child and absolutely zero interest of changing this. The reason being- absent or ever present, your child has a second parent and you have to acknowledge that fact. You are responsible for how you want to view the other party’s absence from your child’s life, keeping in mind that often your view is passed down to your child. Supporting the other parent during this difficult time provides a good model of behavior and response to adversity. Supporting and encouraging (which incidentally, is different from nagging) the other parent to heal and become rehabilitated will help them to become a better and stronger individual, which in turn, helps them to become a better parent. Once they are rehabilitated, approach the situation as the Court would, and trust that a Judge would not put your child in harm’s way. Allow them to earn back your trust, and they may really surprise you.
This post was written by our Writer and Content Strategist, K. Gleason.
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