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Do you really want to go to war over your children's custody?

A Letter from Bill Hoge to parents who want to start a custody battle:

In my four decades of practicing law, I have been involved as an attorney in many, many full-blown custody battles.

Rarely does either parent win a custody battle and there are almost always far too many casualties of such a war.

While one parent or the other can end up with "custody" of the parties' children, no one truly "wins".  Remember:

"You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake."
-- Jeannette Rankin (1880 - 1973),
first woman elected to the U.S. Congress

The enormous tension, animosity and hostility generated by parents warring over who will "possess" a child creates a truly no-win situation.

Certainly the parent failing to obtain custody of the children did not "win". Likewise, the parent who successfully obtained custody does not come out the victor as many angry words and accusations were probably hurled at the opposing parent in the process. I don't believe anyone would suggest that the children should be "won" like the spoils of war.

There can be no question whatsoever that parents seeking custody of their children are propelled by a well-intentioned parental desire to protect their children from harm. However, in the process, do we subject those same children to the agony of being forced to say, "I want to live with Mom" or "I want to live with Dad"?

There are vast numbers of cases where a parent seeks sole custody of a child because the other parent poses a threat or risk by reason of domestic violence or abuse. However, in those instances, the abusing parent still retains the right to visitation with his/her children. There are many, many people in prison today for domestic violence or abuse who continue to have visitation with their children. The right of visitation with one's children is something the Courts today take very seriously and they will side almost every time against a parent who claims "He/she shouldn't be allowed to see our children because . . . ."

While the Court will vehemently protect a parent's right of visitation, because the driving force behind the family court system is the protect the "best interest of the child", there are safeguard mechanisms in place within our judicial system to assure the child's safety while still allowing the non-custodial parent access to the child for purposes of visitation. These safeguards include Visitation Centers where the children are dropped off by the custodial parent and the non-custodial parent visits the children at the Center, all the while under "sight-and-sound supervision" of the Center staff. In other instances, the parent-child visitation can be supervised by a third party, such as a friend or relative or even a social worker.

By and large, children love their parents -- both of them. When a couple reaches the point where divorce is the only answer, the opponents oftentimes lose sight of the fact that they are divorcing each other -- not compelling to children to pick the parent they love the most.

While a husband and wife may divorce each other, they still share an enduring bond in the form of their children. They will remain connected through the children for years to come. That part of the relationship does not end with the entry of the divorce decree.

Of course, we are speaking in broad generalities here. There are exceptions to every rule. For the purposes of this article, we are addressing the usual situation of a couple who can no longer live together as man and wife and the children who are caught in the middle.

I do not pretend to be a psychiatrist or psychologist or family counselor. I can speak, however, from the perspective of having served as legal counsel to hundreds of people hoping to get a divorce and obtain custody of their children.  So many times, getting custody is simply a means of getting back at the other spouse for years of abuse or neglect or an effort to control the other spouse by controlling his/her access to the parties' children. But who wins in that scenario? Certainly not the children!  In many European countries, when couples divorce, there is no mention whatsoever in the divorce documents of "custody". Unlike the U.S., where the "possession" of the children is set out in the terms of the Property Settlement Agreement, in Europe the parties either agree to or the Court establishes a Parenting Plan.

In the simplest possible terms, Parenting Plans simply establish who will spend time with the children and when and under what circumstances. Under this principle, there is no question that the divorcing parties will always be parents though they may no longer be husband and wife.

My office regularly uses Parenting Agreements or Parenting Plans to parse out the issues relating to the children and to keep them separate from the financial aspects of the divorce process.

If you hire us to represent you in a custody matter, I can assure you we will be unapologetic advocates for your cause and will move Heaven and Earth to get you the best possible outcome.  But, please stop and consider the ultimate cost of an all-out battle over your kids.  Are you willing to spend the equivalent of their college education costs to be able to say, "I won"?  Are you willing to risk damaging your children's relationship with both their parents and even their extended families to be able to say, "I won"?  Are you willing to pay the financial and emotional price to engage in an ultimate battle just for the satisfaction of saying, "I won"?

Return to our main Custody & Visitation page to learn more about child custody, visitation and parenting schedules