Thomas Ferreira here, child custody, divorce and support mediator and attorney. This week’s tip is on child custody and how to get more parenting time in family court.
If you’ve spent any time in family court you know that the court doesn’t always do what you think it will, especially in child custody cases. Maybe you’ve been the at-home parent for ten years, and dad has suddenly discovered that you have kids together. Or, perhaps mom is bat bleep crazy, but seems to turn the tide against you at every hearing or at Family Court Services mediation.
I’ve seen over and over again those parents who do the same thing time after time while expecting a different result. I remember one family law judge asking a father, “how many times are you going to bring this same motion before this court?” This parent’s reply: “as many times as it takes.”
That was, as you will suspect, the wrong answer. Here’s a little secret that will get you better results in custody court than the best lawyer in San Diego County: Winning in child custody cases often requires doing precisely the opposite of what you feel inclined to do.
Case in point: Dad comes into court or mediation demanding 50-50 custody. You know that he is a pothead and that he would rather be partying with the boys than be cooped up with your kids. But he says he wants to step up and be the father he never was during the marriage.
Your natural inclination might be to limit his visits to two or three weekly visits for a couple of hours, while you watch him like a hawk. Surely the court will see how irresponsible he is.
But the court wants you to give him more time. If you resist, and complain about dad’s shortcomings, the court may get the idea that you don’t support his parent-child relationship, or worse, that you’re more concerned with punishing your ex than loving your kid.
Try the opposite. Be generous by proposing more time with that parent. It will do two things:
1. You will give a child-focused impression on the court, an impression that they will remember; and
2. You will give your co-parent the opportunity to either step up or fail.
Once you have established that you are child-centered and supportive of the other parent, the other parent will have to step up. If that parent’s priority is something other than the kids (such as partying, playing pick-up basketball or working long hours), you’ll start to get more opportunities to parent outside the schedule. The court is going to see what is going on, and likely you will end up with more parenting time.
If you are the “out parent,” seize that opportunity to step up. If you get a 50-50 time share, now’s your time to shine as a parent. Be willing to make those kids a priority.
I always say that child custody cases are a marathon, not a sprint. If you don’t like your time share with your son or daughter, play the long game. Don’t expect the court to be able to solve your problem after one ruling.
This often requires doing something other than your first inclination. Do the opposite. And…
Love your family,
Protect your finances, and
Reach for your future!
Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.