If you’re going through a divorce and have young children, the courts will decide both legal custody and physical placement. People often refer to both by the term “custody,” but there are actually two different legal decisions here. Legal custody determines who makes major decisions for children, while physical placement determines how parents share time with their children. It’s possible the children will spend 50 percent of their time with you, but for your ex to have authority to make major decisions for them.
When it comes to determining both physical placement and legal custody, the judge in your divorce case will look at a wide variety of things. The judge will always rule based on what he or she believes is in the best interest of your children. Here are nine different things you want to avoid to show the judge that you deserve custody and placement of your children.
1. AVOID VERBAL ALTERCATIONS WITH EX-SPOUSE AND/OR CHILDREN
While you may feel tempted to get into a verbal sparring match with your ex or even yell at him or her, do your best to keep your temper under control – especially in the presence of your children. The judge will not look favorably upon those who get into shouting matches. Also, do your best to avoid getting into arguments with your children or badmouthing the other parent in front of the children. If parties cannot resolve custody and placement, it’s likely the court will have someone interview your children, and what they say about you and your ex will influence the judge’s decision.
2. AVOID PHYSICAL CONFRONTATION WITH EX-SPOUSE AND/OR CHILDREN
If verbal fights are bad, imagine what the judge is going to think about getting into physical arguments with your ex or with your children? Physical altercations can not only lead to losing custody and placement of your children, they can lead to charges of physical abuse or child abuse, which will likely result in an Injunction (“Restraining Order”). Co-parenting and sharing custody and placement of your children is nearly impossible if there is a Restraining Order in place.
3. AVOID EXPOSING YOUR CHILDREN TO NEW PARTNERS
After a divorce has been filed, you may be tempted to start dating again. In fact, your marriage may have dissolved because you or your spouse were already involved with someone else. However, during the pendency of your divorce, and even for a period after your divorce is final, you might want to keep your children away from anyone you’re dating. It can confuse your children and cause unnecessary drama, especially if they (or your ex) do not like your partner. Wisconsin is a “no fault” divorce state, so infidelity is most-often not legally-relevant; however, introducing a new significant other too soon could certainly exacerbate any already difficult situation and lead to issues that are easily avoided by keeping things low-key both during and after your divorce.
4. AVOID CRITICIZING THE OTHER PARENT TO LEGAL PARTIES, FAMILY, OR FRIENDS
When talking to your attorney, your spouse’s attorney, your family, or even your friends, remember that anything you say can get back to the court. Even if the other person didn’t intentionally mean to repeat what you said, something might slip out. It’s also possible they will be called upon to give a deposition or testify and will be under oath, sworn to tell the truth. It’s a much better idea to keep such thoughts to yourself. The same is undoubtedly true for posting online. Always assume anything you do, say or post on social media is public knowledge and can be used against you.
5. AVOID NEGLECTING CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS AND/OR AGREED UPON PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Even if it’s not court-ordered, if you and your ex have agreed on the child or spousal support payments while your divorce is ongoing, you need to make them. If it is court-ordered, you definitely can’t miss any of those payments. Doing so shows contempt for the court’s temporary judgment and shows that you may not have your children’s best interests at heart. The same is true if you fail to meet any responsibilities you’ve agreed to or were ordered to do. That includes picking your children up for visitations and returning them at agreed-upon times and places.
6. AVOID DAMAGING PROPERTY THAT BELONGS TO YOUR EX-SPOUSE
Just like with arguing or fighting, you want to avoid losing your temper and damaging any property that belongs to your ex. That includes their car, home, or anything else. Don’t damage any joint property, either, even if you have paid for it entirely. Anything you purchased during your marriage is considered martial property – don’t damage, destroy, or sell it until the divorce is finalized.
7. AVOID DENYING YOUR CHILDREN CONTACT WITH THEIR OTHER PARENT DURING YOUR SCHEDULED TIME WITH THEM
If your ex has visitation rights and is following any regulations the court may have imposed on visitation, you cannot legally deny them reasonable contact with your children. If you try to do this, your spouse may ask the court to hold you in contempt, and the court may even decide to revisit it’s allocation of custody and placement.
8. AVOID REMOVING CHILDREN FROM SCHEDULED ACTIVITIES
Divorce is hard on your children. They’re used to a routine, and suddenly everything is upended. Do your best to keep their routine as normal as possible. Do your best to keep them in all of their school activities, extra-curricular sports, and anything else they enjoy. It may not always be possible, of course, but it’s important to do the best you can. Similarly, it’s important not to schedule things during time your children are with the other parent without his or her knowledge and consent. While keeping things as close to normal is important during a divorce, it’s also important that issues aren’t created, unnecessarily, by creating conflict and doing things that might upset your ability to effectively co-parent.
9. AVOID TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN WITHOUT NOTIFYING YOUR EX-SPOUSE
If you’re going to take your children out of state or even somewhere in the same state for several nights, always let your ex know what’s going on. While your spouse might not have the ability to prevent the travel, common courtesy would dictate that a parent his a right to know where his/her children are – particularly when travel is involved.
KEEP IN THE COURT’S GOOD GRACES
Remember, there’s no guaranteed way of winning your custody/placement battle, but it’s very easy to lose if you do the wrong things. By following the tips above, you’ll be able to remain in the court’s good graces and have a much better chance of getting the results you want.