Divorce may refer to the dissolution of a marriage, but in many cases, it also marks the division of a family. For spouses with children, navigating this transition can be the most emotional part of the divorce process.
Reaching a child custody agreement can be a particularly tumultuous task. Last month, we interviewed our in-house counselor Jessica Burrows to learn how to guide children through the emotions surrounding divorce. This month, we’re looking at the legal side of the issue with attorney Adam Burrows. With a B.A. in Psychology from the University of North Texas and a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the Texas A&M School of Law, Adam is an expert in the legalities and complexities of child custody law. We spoke with Adam to learn more about what to expect during child custody cases and how to best care for your children throughout the process.
What Practical Steps Can Parents Take to Help Their Child During Divorce Proceedings?
Remember that you may be divorcing your spouse, but you are not divorcing your children. They do not need to be part of the process. Children absorb whatever is going on around them, which may affect them negatively or positively. Thus, it’s important to try to keep the divorce process strictly between the parents. Also, do not disparage the other spouse in the presence of the children, or let others be around your children that continue to do so. The psychological effect on the child is not worth the self-gratifying remarks.
Are Child Custody Battles Always Necessary?
Absolutely not. Making decisions as reasonable and rational parents is always better than having a person with a gavel make life-altering decisions for you, based on just a snapshot of your life.
When Should a Parent Fight for Sole Custody?
The court starts with the presumption that joint custody, which is legally referred to as joint managing conservatorship, is in the best interest of the child or children. However, if there are facts that would change the court’s opinion on this point – e.g. physical abuse, drug/alcohol abuse, or abandonment – then joint custody may not be in the best interest of the child or children.
Is It Common for Children to Be Assessed/Interviewed by Psychologists or Other Experts During Custody Negotiations?
During a custody battle, parties often think they can gain an advantage by hiring a therapist to testify in their favor. However, most therapists are actually reluctant to put themselves into that type of situation, and when they are, they generally do not testify in the manner that they were “expected” to testify. Therapy is meant to give children the opportunity to share intimate feelings and emotions without the fear of having them shared with others. Thus, using therapists to try to win favor in court may do more harm than good in the eyes of the child who needs a safe place to share his or her feelings.
Is It Common for Children to Testify During a Custody Trial?
It is not common for children to testify, and it is often discouraged. Testifying puts the child in the middle of the conflict, which we try to avoid. For this reason, asking for a child to testify may actually look unfavorable in the eyes of the judge.
How Can Parents Prepare Their Children for Being Interviewed or Testifying?
Parents should not be discussing litigation with their children. This includes preparing the child to have a conversation with a judge. And to be clear, there is difference between mentioning to the child that they will be speaking with the court and telling the child what to say to the judge. It is perfectly appropriate to let your child know that someone will be speaking with them. But the bottom line is that you should not put words in your children’s mouths. Judges can usually determine if a child has been coached, and that will not go well for the offending parent.
Who Does a Child Stay with During a Custody Battle?
It depends. There is usually a primary parent that the child will stay with and the non-primary parent will exercise a possession schedule. However, possession schedules can come in many different shapes and sizes. Typically, if parents are not residing with each other during litigation, the child stays with both parents at different times.
What Can a Parent Do to Protect Their Child During a Custody Battle?
Follow the advice set forth in this article, as well as in the recent interview with our in-house counselor Jessica Burrows, and be nice to the other parent. The more you work together, the easier it will be for your children.
If you would like more information about the legalities of child custody or need legal counsel for your divorce, contact us to schedule a consultation. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have.