One of the most harrowing parts of many divorces is the fight for child custody and visitation. The prospect of not being a part of their children’s lives, or at least having a diminished presence, terrifies many parents.
How Can You Protect Your Visitation Rights?
It’s important to put your best foot forward and portray yourself as a responsible, ideal parent. With that in mind, here are some dos and don’ts to help protect child custody and visitation.
Do: Work With Your Ex
Unless there are extreme circumstances in play, as long as both parents are in the picture, there will be some level of contact. Raising a child takes collaboration.
If you continually show you’re unwilling to do this, it damages your cause. So, put aside your feelings and do what’s best for the kids.
Even if you don’t particularly like each other, you and your ex have to work together.
Related Reading: What to Expect from Custody Hearings
Don’t: Move Out
When ending a marriage, moving out seems like the natural choice. However, leaving a shared home often hinders your case when it comes to custody and visitation.
It’s all about perception with the courts, and it can look like you left children behind or that you’re not a dedicated parent.
That may not be the case, but in the eyes of the court, it often reflects poorly. And if we’re talking about a heated battle, your ex may trot that out as an example of why you’re not a fit parent.
Related Reading: Moving Out: What You Need To Know
Do: Stay A Part Of Your Children’s Daily Life
Being involved in your child’s daily life is important for a number of reasons. It helps your relationship, it’s good for both of you, and it may further your cause when it comes to custody and visitation.
Spending regular quality time with the kids demonstrates a desire to be an involved parent.
Also, when ruling on custody and the like, the court often tries to minimize drastic changes in schedule and routine. If you’re already an active participant, that’s less likely to change.
Related Reading: Can I Still Smoke Weed? Legal Marijuana and Child Custody
Don’t: Allow Your Ex To Remove You From Your Child’s Life
Remaining a part of your child’s daily life isn’t always as simple as it sounds. This is especially true if your ex actively tries to cut you out of the picture or limit your visitation.
It’s important to you, your case, and your relationship with your kids to stand up and not let your ex push you around.
An occasional change of schedule is one thing, but if it becomes a pattern, you should consult your attorney to learn what to do.
Related Reading: Co-Parenting Strategies for Divorced Parents
Do: Know Your Rights
It’s helpful to have an experienced child custody attorney in your corner. But there’s also a lot of other information out there. Read up on child custody laws, find out how the courts determine visitation and parenting time, and learn how the state calculates child support.
The more information you have, the better prepared you’ll be. This often goes a long way toward informing the strategy of your case.
Related Reading: The 4 Types of Child Custody
Don’t: Wait to Act
It’s important to take an active approach when it comes to child custody and visitation. A wait-and-see strategy often puts you at a disadvantage.
Instead of acting, parents too often find themselves reacting to the other party’s actions. Instead of pushing for what you want and need, you spend time and energy pushing back against your ex.
Related Reading: What’s in a Parenting Plan?
Do: Document Everything
Make sure to document and keep track of everything. Did your ex send an email unjustly denying you a scheduled visit? Save it. The same goes for text messages, social media posts, and voicemails.
If you legitimately believe your child isn’t safe with your ex, keep records of why. You’ll need to show your work.
Maintain a chronicle of the time you spend with your kids. If your ex says you’re not involved, then you have proof.
Whatever claims you make to a judge, collect as much concrete evidence as you can to back up your statements.
Related Reading: Criminal Charges and Child Custody
Don’t: Interfere With Your Ex’s Visitation
You probably have all manner of ill feelings towards your ex. There are bound to be bruised emotions in divorce. But it’s still important for both parents to remain in a child’s life—so long as it’s not dangerous.
If there’s visitation scheduled, don’t interfere or try to block it. If nothing else, it makes you look petty.
And if you complain that your ex hampers your visitation, think about how it looks to a judge if you do the same thing.
Related Reading: What Are the Odds of Getting Primary Custody?
Do: Make Use of Your Parental Rights
This goes back to remaining a part of your child’s life, but if you have parental rights, exercise them. If a temporary custody order gives you regular visitation, take advantage of that. Spend as much time with your kids as possible.
This includes big, special events, but also everyday things like homework or watching a movie. One, it’s beneficial to the kids. And two, it strengthens your case as an involved, concerned, dedicated parent. Simply being there often goes a long way.
Related Reading: What is Joint Custody?
Don’t: Arrive Late, Reschedule, or Cancel
Schedules change, last-minute complications arise, and sometimes things just don’t work out. That happens. But as much as possible, if you have a visit scheduled, don’t show up late, reschedule, or cancel.
Not only is this frustrating for your children—it’s hard to get expectations up and have them not met—but it can leave a negative impression. Consistently missing visits may paint a picture of a parent who puts other things ahead of the children and their needs.
Related Reading: My Ex is Refusing Court Ordered Visitation
Do: Abide By Temporary Court Rulings
While the court deliberates over awarding child custody and visitation, the judge will likely dole out temporary orders. These can include:
- Interim custody.
- A visitation schedule.
- Dividing holidays.
- Child support.
Stick to these. If you don’t, you can wind up facing contempt charges. At the very least, this makes you look unwilling to cooperate or that you don’t have the children’s best interests in mind.
Related Reading: Violating Divorce Agreements: When To File A Motion For Contempt
Don’t: Trash Talk Your Ex To The Kids
Again, you may hate your ex. But while you’re with the kids, keep those feelings under wraps. Don’t try to use them as pawns in child custody and visitation or turn them against your ex.
Not only is it unhealthy for them, if it appears you’re trying to manipulate them or turn them against your ex, it reflects negatively on your case.
Instead of trying to make your ex look bad, focus on making yourself look good, on being the best parent you can be. That helps your case so much more than going negative.
Related Reading: Keeping Custody Exchanges Civil
Do: Hire An Attorney Experienced in Child Custody and Visitation
These cases are often complicated. Flaring tempers and heated emotions only amplify this. It’s most likely in your best interest to hire an experienced child custody attorney.
This is especially true if your ex enlists the help of a lawyer. Not only can a litigator guide you through the process, when things get hot and you may not act rationally, an attorney can also calm things down and advise you on the best way to proceed.
Other Reading: Establishing Paternity in Washington