Custody cases are some of the hardest. Even in cases that – to me, at least – seem more or less routine, there’s still the fact that parents who otherwise would have had (and probably did have, up until recently) complete autonomy over how their children were going to be raised are going to suddenly face the involvement of the court, a guardian ad litem, and others when it comes to their parenting choices.
As a parent myself, that’s something I honestly can’t imagine, even though I handle custody cases every single day. Moms always tell me how scared they are that they’ll lose custody, and I think, in many ways, what they’re worried about isn’t so much the winning or the losing (probably most know on some level that the court won’t take custody completely away from a perfectly good parent for no reason) but the fact that they won’t have the ability to make their own decisions from this point forward. That, no matter what happens, their choices will, in many ways, be constrained by their child’s father and the court and that some things will be beyond their control and influence. In custody cases, all sorts of random issues come up. And courts, ultimately, rule on them all (that is, if the child’s parents aren’t able to reach an agreement between themselves first).
You may find that you’re restricted even with respect to smaller points, or that provisions are made mutual between the two of you even if you’re not part of the problem. A lot of times, we come up with provisions to address what we feel are particular problems with the child’s other parent. The child’s other parent, of course, refuses to sign any agreement or allow any kind of settlement to be reached unless the provision applies equally to the other parent.
Most often, we see these prohibitions when it comes to unrelated overnight guests and drinking while the children are in the parent’s care.
We often ask that alcohol not be consumed while the child is in a parent’s care, particularly if we have a concern about alcoholism or inappropriate decision making.
Of course, the alcoholic parent often won’t agree to being restricted unless the restriction applies equally to the parent without a problem—which, I can imagine, is probably pretty annoying. If you have your children most of the time, and there’s a prohibition against consuming any alcohol while the kids are in your care, that means you can’t just have a little wine cooler at a neighborhood block party or enjoy a little cocktail after bedtime. If dad’s behavior is a concern to you, though, and he refuses to sign anything that allows you more latitude tan it does him, you have a choice. Is it more important to you to get the prohibition in there, and protect your children from the bad decisions he may make on his watch—or to give yourself the freedom to indulge in an adult beverage every so often when you have the kids? Most moms vote for restricting alcohol for both parents.
It may seem counterintuitive, especially if your child’s father has some sort of documentable alcohol issues (like a former DUI or a charge for drunk in public or whatever), but if you ask for a restriction to be placed on your child’s father, the judge will have a hard time understanding why you don’t believe that the same restriction should apply to you. Like, if you’re so worried about alcohol, why on earth wouldn’t you agree to restrict your consumption—especially if your contention is that a parent can’t adequately care for the children after consuming it?
To a judge, it makes sense, rather than to determine which parent really has a problem with alcohol, to go ahead and forbid both of you to consume it while the children are in your care. After all, better safe than sorry, right? And what harm (from a judge’s perspective) can come from knowing that both parties are disallowed? If you’re wanting to contend that alcohol is an issue, be prepared for the provision to be applied mutually.
Unrelated overnight guests
Likewise, if you’re concerned about stability, and the fact that he might start bringing home different girls all the time, you might want to ask for a restriction against overnight guests of the opposite sex. It’s pretty common. Judges like them, too. Chances are, if you ask that the judge order no guests of the opposite sex while the children are in his care, you’ll win. Trouble is, it’ll also apply to you. If dad can’t have his string of bimbo girlfriends coming and going, you can’t have your boyfriend(s) stay the night either. After all, if it sends a bad message to the kids, it sends a bad message whether you do it or dad does it, right?
The judge won’t take the time to screen potential partners, and only disallow them if they’re new or slutty or inappropriate in some way; the judge will take the easy way out and just go ahead and forbid you both from having them. The catch? If he marries her, she won’t be an “unrelated” overnight guest. His wife will, obviously, be allowed to stay overnight with him and the kids—regardless of your objection. (Unless, of course, she’s a violent felon or a registered sex offender with a history of molesting the children of men with whom she has become involved.) There are all sorts of things about a custody case that will impose new levels of restrictions on your life and the way you choose to live it.
It’s pretty obnoxious, in a lot of ways, that the things that affect him and his ability to parent effectively can be turned around and used unfairly against you. Still, judges are unlikely to take a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of either party’s allegations; when it comes to things like drinking and sex, the judge is more likely to take the “higher” moral ground and order both of you to not participate in this kind of behavior while the children are in your care.
As a person who enjoys the weekend glass of wine, I can understand how completely annoying this could be. To never be allowed to, say, take the kids away for vacation and indulge in a margarita again? It would seriously annoy me. But, still, if you’re asking for a provision like this, it’s one that you’ll sort of have to expect. After all, why would dad agree to that if it didn’t also impose a restriction on you and the way you’d like to live your life? And how can you expect a judge – who doesn’t know you – to know who is full of it and who is really suffering from a problem? Of course, that’s not all—the simple fact that you’ll no longer be able to parent your kids on exactly your schedule, that you’ll have to allow dad to do things (like have the kids on Christmas morning!) that you’ve always been able to do.
Going from family time to “his time” and “her time” is never an easy transition, and it’s one that, as a mom, causes physical pain. Your ability to be the kind of parent you want to be is hugely important, both for the sake of your children’s development and your own peace of mind. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about what’s at stake, and what might happen, and wondering what options you have available to you, you’re not alone. Request a free copy of our custody book, the women’s custody survival guide, by clicking here, and feel free to give our office a call at (757) 425-5200 to schedule a consultation with one of our custody attorneys today.