Archive for the ‘It’s Not True: Custody Myths Debunked’ Category

If It Isn’t Paradoxical, It’s Not True: Custody Myths Debunked

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Let me start by stating what is too often overlooked: there are not extremely obvious answers or simple solutions in child custody battles. In my experience having taken several hundred custody and visitation disputes to trial, I have learned a few things that could potentially help a litigant in these stressful cases.

My intention is simple today: to bring basic common sense into the murky water of domestic custody disputes. The myth is this: the worse I make the other parent/ex/spouse appear, the better I appear to the court. Not so fast, as we shall see.

Once upon a time I had a client who was probably, but not certainly, the better parent when compared to her husband, but she made a relatively simple custody victory elusive by getting in her own way….it often happens. When testifying about the parenting skills of her husband (who sought full physical and legal custody of a 6 year old little boy), she would instantly and consistently revert to name-calling and bashing the man she married years ago. Most of her testimony focused on his numerous affairs, not his skill in parenting. He was far more collected and even-tempered than she. He did in fact have several admitted extramarital affairs, and she clearly was not past any one of them. Her wounds were simply too fresh to focus on her child. To him, her insults were like water off of a duck’s back….and therein lies the rub.

Even though we did eventually secure a favorable result, our understandably angry client would likely have spent a fraction of her final invoice if she had bitten her tongue, if even every so often. She was clearly so upset with her husband that she lost all sight of the one thing the court cared about: what was best for her little boy. A case that could have been resolved in a couple of months instead required a couple of dozen hearings and far more too much wasted time.

Even though it is quite tempting to use a Chancery Court proceeding to tell the whole story about the downfall of a marriage/relationship, some things are much better left unsaid. Please realize that the court already knows you don’t have warm, fuzzy feelings about your ex/spouse, or you wouldn’t be there in the first place. It is already well-understood. Slinging mud at your ex often simply irritates the Chancellor hearing your case. Often the best thing to say in court is nothing at all, especially if it causes distraction.

The paradox lies in a simple misconception; that having more negative to say about your child’s other parent will score points, therefore you win. Not so fast; goodwill and maturity go a long way–Mississippi Chancellors appreciate calm reasoning and the desire to get along, particularly for the childrens’ benefit, if nothing less. Don’t ever think you are worse-off than the next custody litigant. Cooler heads most often, and likely should, prevail. Often the litigant who is emotionally-charged teters on the brink of appearing to alienate a child’s innocent affection of both mom and dad.

The attitude a child custody litigant brings with them to trial is overtly paramount to the success of their claim and the efficiency in obtaining a positive outcome. It is very easy to lose sight of what matters most to the court: the best interests of children. Emotionally-charged litigants often forget that their testimony will not only be judged on its believability, but on its responsibility and focus.

My best advice to anyone going through a custody fight (whether or not in a divorce or a custody/modification proceeding) is to remain calm and stay focused on your kids. Forget about the indiscretions, the lying, the cheating, or whatever else your ex did to bring you to disappointment UNLESS it has a direct bearing on your children. It’s usually water under the bridge. Don’t forget that Chancery Court judges are human too, and they hear bickering on a daily basis. It gets tiresome at the least. The myth is that mudslinging is effective; the truth is that it is not very productive.

If you are seeking an attorney who has a clear view of the big picture in a custody dispute, I will gladly lend my advice. Shaping your testimony and being in the right frame of mind are fundamental to winning child custody disputes. If you are prepared to consider viewing this type of litigation from a fresh, objective, and realistic perspective, give us a call.

Matthew Poole is a Jackson, Mississippi Family and Domestic Attorney with 14 years of focused experience in child custody litigation and divorce.