I will give a few observations, based on a number of years of experience. These are my opinion, and some may disagree with me.
1. “Dumping on” the other parent verbally, in writing, in emails, through third persons, etc., is hardly ever constructive. It can be very damaging when done in the presence of the child who is involved in the litigation. Not only can it skew the child’s perception of both parents, but it can, and often does, have the opposite of the intended effect. I often ask clients in these sorts of proceedings how they would have felt if they had heard this kind of thing from their own parents.
2. Drugs and drinking. I don’t know why, but it seems to me that excessive use of alcohol and drugs (both “legal” and “illegal”) is becoming and more of a problem in custody cases. There is no excuse for a parent who is seeking custody of a child, or more parenting time, to engage in irresponsible use of substances, whether or not they are “legal” ones. If a person really expects to win more “rights” with regard to his or her child, it is axiomatic that that person should exercise substantial responsibility.
3. How involved should the parent be in the child’s everyday life? People who are seeking the role of caregiver of children need to be quite involved with the children in most respects. This involves school, going to the doctor and dentist, transportation, nutrition, etc. For a parent to say that she or he doesn’t even know the name of the child’s teacher or coach is often indicative of a less than responsible relationship between the parent and child. It is important for a parent to prove to a court’s satisfaction that he or she is fully engaged in the life of the child.
4. Why should “I” as a parent have to communicate with my ex-spouse? Why can’t I just let the child arrange for parenting time? It is amazing how many times I have heard these questions and questions like them. It is a veritable “catch 22” for the child. If parents cannot even get along enough to be able to arrange plans for sporting events, turnover times, etc., what does this teach the child about how she should deal with her children’s other parent in the future? Beyond that, though, how secure would a typical child feel if continually placed in between her parents? It simply is not fair to the child to be put in a position of dealing with difficult arrangements that her adult parents are not even capable of working through! If parents are not able to communicate with each other on these matters, it may be appropriate for them to consider counseling, and even to seek the aid of a court to order counseling.
5. What should people do when they have questions about child custody? One of the first things I think people should do in most of those instances is make an appointment with a lawyer to consider the questions. While the Child Support Enforcement Agency, the Children Services folks, school authorities, and others may be able to provide some help, none of those sorts of entities is an appropriate source of legal advice for moms and dads who are engaged in these sorts of problems. Even if one or more of these agencies may be involved, it is still important for parents to understand their rights and obligations, so it is often wise to consult with counsel in such matters.