Child custody can be a complicated and emotional process, especially with the additional stress that comes with divorce. In this podcast, New Jersey family lawyer Bari Zell Weinberger answers some of the many questions that will arise when it comes to your children, co-parenting, divorce, and child custody battles in New Jersey.
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Hosted by: Diana Shepherd, Editorial Director, Divorce Magazine
Guest speaker: Bari Zell Weinberger, Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney
Bari Zell Weinberger is a renowned family law expert and the founder of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, a family law firm with offices throughout New Jersey. She is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, a certification achieved by only 2% of the attorneys in New Jersey. Bari is also an experienced family law mediator, a published author, and a frequent media contributor on divorce and family law for both local and national audiences.
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Read the Transcript of this Podcast Below.
Five Ways to Break Through Your Child Custody Battles
Diana Shepherd: What is the most common reason why custody battles erupt in divorce?
Bari Zell Weinberger: The basis of many child custody conflicts is the inability of parents to understand why their child should maintain relationships with each of them. For example, why should a spouse who cheated be rewarded by getting time with the kids? When parents start to see each other as the enemy, it’s all too easy for a custody battle to break out.
When parents fall into this trap of viewing each other as the enemy, what can they do to break free from this destructive pattern?
Parents need to understand that the primary goal for child custody plans is for the child to share time with both parents, whenever possible, as a way to continue healthy parent-child bonding, and for both parents to continue taking part in raising their child. This is why we now refer to the concept of a child living in two homes and spending time with each parent separately as co-parenting.
Acting as co-parents means setting aside hostile feelings you may have toward one another and putting your child’s best interests first. Co-parents communicate needed information and collaborate to troubleshoot minor custody issues in the hopes of fostering a calm and stable lifestyle for their child. Practical steps to start acting more like co-parents include refraining from arguing in front of your children or badmouthing each other, showing up on time for parenting pick-up and drop-off times, and communicating politely when discussing your kids.
Deciding on custody arrangements and what is in the best interest of the children can also trigger fights. What are these arguments typically about?
Child custody options in New Jersey include sole custody, joint legal custody, and shared legal and physical custody. Many parents entered the divorce process with a strong belief that pursuing sole custody is by far the best option and are ready to fight for it. In sole custody arrangements, one parent is considered to be the primary residential parent. This parent makes all of the major decisions for the child regarding health, education, and general welfare as well as all day-to-day decisions. The sole custodial parent does not need to obtain consent from the other parent before making these child-related decisions.
The main goal for child custody plans is for the child to share time with both parents whenever possible. Unless the child’s other parent is absent or unfit, pursuing full custody can be the wrong fit for the family and a child custody battle can erupt when the other parent fights back.
How can parents keep custody negotiations on a more even keel emotionally?
Think in terms of gray, not black and white. Focusing on the other parent’s flaws gives you a distorted picture of who they are. Everyone has room for improvement, even you. A man or a woman who is not a good spouse can still be a good parent. When you stop seeing the other person as the enemy, you can actually begin to accept them as a positive co-parent.
Focus on your child’s needs, not your own. A parent’s fear of losing their relationship with their child or their fantasy of what parenting is supposed to look like can keep them from negotiating a custody agreement that’s actually in their children’s best interests. The more you learn to check your ego, the more you will be able to minimize conflict during custody negotiations with the other parent.
Detach from the outcome. This doesn’t mean that you toss your goals by the wayside, but there’s an important difference between setting an intention, say settling on a 50/50 timeshare split, and clinging to that outcome. Try your best to remain compromising and flexible.
When tensions run high, one parent may decide to move out of state with the child without giving any prior notice. What’s the law in New Jersey on parents moving with the child and how can this situation backfire on the parent who moves?
One destructive strategy a resentful parent may resort to is moving out of state with the child without notice or leaving a forwarding address. This parent often thinks, mistakenly, that by leaving the state with the child, child custody motions filed in New Jersey or scheduled court hearings in the custody matter are no longer valid.
New Jersey law is clear on the issue of leaving the state with a child. You, as the parent, are not permitted to move out of the state of New Jersey with your child without first obtaining the other biological parent’s consent, even if you have a job lined up in the other state or most of your family lives there.
If consent is refused, then you must obtain a court order before leaving. If you leave the state with your child prior to receiving consent or a court order, a judge can require that you return with the child and the judge can impose sanctions against you, including changes of child custody and supervised parenting time.
In extreme cases you may be accused of kidnapping. Your attorney can help you understand all of the elements that the court considers when deciding whether or not it will permit a move with your child.
Battling parents often end up in court. How can litigation inflame conflict rather than quell it?
Out of anger, some individuals hurt by divorce want to engage in a bitter custody court battle that ends in a judge deciding child custody, a move they hope will hurt the other parent. This approach rarely achieves the desired outcome and usually just serves to tear a fractured family even farther apart.
Sometimes going to court to determine child custody is the right thing to do. However, in most cases parenting time plans can be created quickly and peacefully with the help of your family law attorney or mediator. As part of your divorce plan, explore out-of-court settlement options that can lead to a more peaceful resolution.
One out-of-court option is to consider mediation, which is a settlement process in which parties sit down with a neutral third-party mediator to negotiate and reach an amicable resolution to your matter. In many cases, child custody can be mediated as long as both parties are willing to work through their issues together.
Mediation takes much less time compared to a drawn-out custody battle and is typically much lower in cost as well.
Now in extreme situations, parents can hurl false accusations against each other to try and gain an upper hand. Why is this damaging, ultimately, to the parent-child relationship?
When custody disputes break out and accusations fly, it turns the straightforward process of determining child custody into an all-out worst nightmare. False accusations occur in many forms: those of physical abuse and neglect to even drug addiction, which can harm the parent against whom they are lodged and can backfire on the parent who made the false accusations.
The courts do not tolerate false allegations, and it can impact your parenting time agreement if you are viewed as an alienating parent. False accusations can also irreparably damage a child’s sense of self as their relationship with their parent becomes needlessly upset or severed altogether, depending on the outcome.
How can parents protect their relationships with their children?
Get in the habit of documenting how you spend time with your kids by keeping a daily parenting time journal that details your daily routines no matter how mundane. Document where you were, the times you were there, and the people with whom you interacted when your child was present. Save things like receipts and photos of you and your child, confirmations of appointments and play dates, and also keep records of communication with you and your child’s other parent, including emails, texts, and call logs.
One of the benefits of communicating via text or email is the record it creates. When it comes to custody exchanges, if you and your child’s other parent have a history of conflict, arrange to meet at a highly visible public place, a neutral location, as an effort to prevent conflict from escalating.
How can listeners learn more about settling their child custody issues peacefully?
I encourage listeners to download our free guide, “Five Ways to Break Through Your Child Custody Battles,” for details on everything we’ve discussed today, plus more tips for lowering the conflict on custody negotiations. Please find it at wlg.com/downloads.
What special help can your firm provide to parents seeking custody and parenting time arrangements?
If you are seeking a trusted family law attorney with experience helping clients reach positive resolutions in their child custody matters, please contact us today to set up your free consultation.