Divorce, whether it involved a custody issue or not, does not necessarily end parenting disputes. Such disputes can escalate into full blown child custody cases. The potential for damage to the parents and, most of all, the children is high.
Get legal representation
You are facing a custody dispute that is headed to court. Perhaps you have already received legal paperwork. Your first move should be to get legal representation. Custody of your children is too important to try to represent yourself.
- Look for a lawyer that has experience in child custody cases.
- Ask if they have a working relationship with a child psychologist or custody evaluator
- Ask about the finances - retainer, hourly rate, phone, fax etc. Most lawyers have a sheet with their fees.
- Ask what you can reasonably expect from the process
- Be honest so your lawyer can work clearly in your best interests
A good place to start is the American Bar Association.
Be honest with yourself about how much money you have available for this court case. Consider other sources of money such as loans from banks or relatives even as a backup. Make sure your sources are liquid enough that you can lay your hands on that money as soon as you need it.
Get your documents in order
Documents such as the following may be needed:
- divorce agreement
- any modifications to that agreement
- financial e.g. W2, tax returns
- record of child support payments
Depending on what claims are being made in the filed legal documents, the information you may need to help your lawyer will vary. Your lawyer will let you know what you need.
Keeping your sanity
It is normal to feel very upset in this situation. We have strong connections to our children that are emotionally based, not logically based and so strong emotions are stirred up in custody disputes.
- Do keep up your normal routine as much as possible
- Do confide in close friends or family that you can trust
- Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills etc unless absolutely necessary. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns. You want to be at your best for negotiations and court.
- Sports, exercise, yoga, meditation are all great ways to reduce stress
- Continue your normal custody routine unless otherwise advised by your lawyer
- Avoid interaction with your ex as much as possible except where necessary for parenting
- Do not talk to your kids about your case even if your ex does.
- If your kid asks you about it, explain that it is an adult issue and you and their other parent are doing your best to work it out.
- If you are religious, prayer may help you and your religious community may be a good support network for you
This is an upsetting time but it will pass. You will survive this ordeal and manage your life no matter what the outcome. Having already gone through a divorce, you have proven yourself to be a survivor.