Coparenting for Beginners
I was talking to a woman the other day who was asking me all sorts of things about her upcoming custody case and the decisions she should be making. The (first time) mother of a very young son, she had never navigated this kind of territory before. Though she hoped to be able to reach an agreement for custody and visitation out of court, she also wanted to be sure she was as prepared as possible in the event that her case did wind up in a courtroom.
We were talking about coparenting, and how best to help dad develop a relationship with the child (while not impacting mom’s ability to parent the way she always imagined she would). She told me she had been texting and emailing him information, as well as making sure the child was available for Skype calls and other ways of contact. “Should I stop doing that?” she asked me. “I don’t want him to be able to go into court and tell the judge exactly what the pediatrician said, when he didn’t go, but because I told him!”
It’s a good question, and one I’ve heard lots of different versions of over the years. You don’t want to just hand information over to the enemy! (Even if calling your child’s father the enemy is admittedly a bit dramatic and over the top.)
I reminded her of the best interests of the child factors and encouraged her to read them in more detail. It’s easy to think, “Oh, another statute, blah blah blah,” but in the case of the best interests of the child factors, nothing could be further from the truth. These factors are so incredibly important, we (that is to say, experienced custody attorneys) base our entire case around them! There’s literally nothing more important than these factors and showing that our client is doing everything in her power to serve the child’s best interests.
While it’s easy to argue that you are, of course, attempting to serve the child’s best interests, the factors help you go a step further because they specifically enumerate the kinds of things that the court believes is in a child’s best interests. Though the way the factors are applied may be subjective, the factors themselves are written there in black and white. The factors help ground a custody case by giving us specific things to mention and focus on, which is helpful – not to mention good for you now, today, as you begin to build your own custody case.
So, what are the best interests of the child factors?
1. The age and physical and mental condition of the child, giving due consideration to the child’s changing developmental needs;
2. The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
3. The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual and physical needs of the child;
4. The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers and extended family members;
5. The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
6. The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
7. The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
8. The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;
9. Any history of family abuse as that term is defined in § 16.1-228 or sexual abuse. If the court finds such a history, the court may disregard the factors in subdivision 6; and
10. Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination.
So, what’s the answer to the question? Should I withhold information?
Yeah, keep to the point. What’s the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this article? Is it better to keep information from, say, a pediatrician to yourself, or hand it over to your child’s father when you know full well that will mean he can knowledgeably speak about issues that he has taken no personal interest in? Surely we want to show that he ISN’T coming to those appointments, that he isn’t involved, and that him caring for the child more than is necessary is not in the child’s best interests, right?
Well, yes, sort of – but it doesn’t follow that you should behave badly in order to prove this point. It’s never a good idea to withhold information, especially given that one of the major tenets of legal custody is that you and he should collaborate on non emergency medical care. By attending appointments and either not advising him of them or not telling him about what happened at each appointment, you’re not really showing good coparenting skills. We can show that he didn’t attend the appointment, but we don’t want to do that if we’d also show that you’re not providing him with information regarding the child’s development or any other medical needs.
Remember factor number 6 – and go back and review it, if necessary. We sometimes call this the mom’s downfall, because it’s things like this that end up biting mom in the backside later on. Sure, if he doesn’t care enough to go, that shows something. But I don’t want to let your behavior also show the court something unpleasant about you.
Coparenting is hard, and it means being the bigger person in a lot of different ways. Just because he’s doing things wrong doesn’t mean that you should; in fact, I think it’s a really good argument that you should keep going above and beyond to do everything in your power to make sure the children are taken care of as well as possible. Don’t think about your child’s father and his case, think about your children and what is best for them – and that’ll generally point you in the right direction.
The court also has a number of coparenting classes you can take – and I definitely recommend that you do, if you think your case might go to court – which could help you as you begin to navigate this territory. It’s not easy; in fact, I think it’s incredibly difficult! But when you’re armed with as much information as possible, you can make the best decisions for yourself and your children.
For more information, to request a copy of our custody book , or to get more information about upcoming custody seminars give our office a call at 757-425-5200.