Child Custody: Don’t Play Tug-of-War with a Fragile Rope

Tug-of-war custody battles can get messy. The “rope” gets pulled, stretched, and maybe even broken. No matter who “wins,” the rope – that fragile rope – is always caught in the middle.

child custody tug of war: angry Black parents with daughter in the middle pull her in 2 different directions

By Valerie Hein, Family Lawyer

The person you’re in a relationship with isn’t the person you fell in love with. Your partner had an affair and you’ll never be able to rebuild the trust. You’ve found that you have interests outside of your relationship and don’t want to be tied down.

Whatever the reason, your relationship is ending, and it’s not on good terms. You have no reason to be nice to this person anymore. You’re just ready to be done.

Will You Fight a Tug-of-War Child Custody Battle?

But then you feel a tug on your pant leg, and hear a precious little voice saying, “Mommy, why are you and Daddy always fighting?”

This is the first opportunity for you to decide exactly how this whole thing is going to affect your kid(s). You could look at your children and say, “Because Daddy is a big fat liar who can’t be trusted and doesn’t really care about his family.” Or “Mommy is abandoning us. She doesn’t love us anymore.” You have just planted a seed of doubt in your children’s minds about their other parent. And chances are, your partner (or ex-partner) will say similar things to try to strike back at you; to try to pull your children over onto their side. And the tug of war has begun.

Often, when parents go to court over child custody and an order is entered by a judge, there are provisions in the order prohibiting the parents from discussing the court proceedings with the children, prohibiting the parents from speaking poorly about each other in the presence of the children, and requiring the parents to promote a healthy relationship between the children and the other parent. Unfortunately, these provisions are some of the most-often violated. Parents who are constantly at each other’s throats tend to have tunnel vision. They have one focus: beat the other at all costs.

But what if your custody battle costs you your children?

Pulling and tugging at your children or putting the other parent down to “win” the title of Favorite Parent is not a game any child should be a part of. Unfortunately, as much as we like to pretend that we can keep children out of it as long as we keep them out of the courtroom, we can’t. If Mom and Dad are fighting like cats and dogs, the kids know. They are in the middle of it. And there is nothing your attorney or a judge can say or do to make it otherwise. That is up to you – the parent.

It is up to you to love your children more than you hate your ex-partner – no matter what happened between the two of you, and no matter why or how your relationship ended. This is not to say that parents won’t or even shouldn’t end up in court. Sometimes people just can’t agree, and two perfectly reasonable people have a difference of opinion as to how things should be done.

But, for the love of your children, keep it civil. Don’t let it affect the way you talk to your children about their other parent. Don’t let it affect the way you talk to the other parent outside of the courtroom, especially not in front of your children. And don’t let it turn into a game of tug-of-war with your children. A terrible relationship with your ex-partner will not only cause you and your children unneeded stress, but can also cause you to incur thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Tug-of-war can get messy. The rope gets pulled, stretched, and maybe even broken. And no matter who “wins,” the rope – that fragile rope – is always caught in the middle.

Valerie Hein is a mother, daughter of divorced parents, stepdaughter, and divorce lawyer practicing in Concord, North Carolina. She has also been married, become a stepmother, and been through her own divorce. Having these personal experiences helps her to empathize with her clients while maintaining her professional perspective on the likely outcomes based on a legal analysis of their case.

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