Divorce on the Horizon? Here Are 7 Ways to Protect Your Parental Rights

Here’s what you can do if you feel your parental rights are being challenged.

parental rights during divorce: broken paper heart with mother father and child

Married parents have equal parental rights to the children born during their marriage. They both have a right to spend time with the kids and have a say in parenting decisions until there's a court order stating otherwise. For most parents, protecting their right to be part of their child's life post-divorce is of the utmost importance. If you think the other parent may try to challenge your parental rights, you should begin working to preserve your role in your child's life as soon as it seems like divorce is imminent.

Here Are 7 Ways to Protect Your Parental Rights

1. Talk to an attorney.

Being proactive could help you cover all the bases to build a solid court case. Even before the case has begun, you can schedule a consultation with an attorney to explain your situation. They know your state's child custody laws and could let you know whether your parental rights are being violated. Furthermore, they could advise you on what not to do if you want custody.

2. Talk with your spouse.

Though you might have a strained relationship, you'll have to figure out how to cooperate as parents. Plan a time to sit down and discuss how things will change after one parent leaves the family home. Try to agree on a temporary arrangement for visitation so you don't have to schedule visits on the fly. This could even open the door to settling the custody issues in your case.

3. Prioritize your child.

Divorce gives you a lot to worry about. With finances, property, and custody issues on the table, your most important role might get lost in the shuffle. Staying involved in your child's life is pivotal to the child's ability to handle the eventual divorce. Plus, when you go to court, you'll have to show you're capable of parenting. Make the effort to be there at your child's extracurricular events and to take them to school, doctor's appointments, and other obligations. Focus on being a bright spot for your kids to keep things from getting hectic. Spend quality time together and continue to follow household routines as usual.

4. Be sensitive to your child's feelings.

The child's preference is a factor in many jurisdictions, and it's quite common for judges or other professionals to speak with the children during the custody court process. You'll want to make certain that your child sees you as a parent they want to be around. To start, don't mention the divorce to your child until you're certain it's going to happen. Telling them you're divorcing, then reconciling, then divorcing anyway could cause anxiety, confusion, and distrust. Also, avoid instigating fights and making negative comments about the other parent.

5. Take stock of what you do for your child.

One criterion considered in determining the best interest of the child is the parent-child relationship. Proof of enrolling your child in school and extracurriculars and paying for things they need could all help your case.  Try to find other ways to show that you're a valued part of your child's life. Collect mementos like pictures they've drawn for you and photos you've taken together. Make note of the caretaking duties you fulfill. All can prove useful when you need to show you have a close relationship with your child.

6. Save anything that shows interference with parental rights.

Keep track of text messages and emails that show you were denied access to your child. Proof that a parent has not tried to maintain a relationship with their child could also help your case in court.

7. Figure out your ideal parenting arrangement.

You'll need a parenting plan whether you go to court or reach a settlement with the other parent. In your plan, you'll specify when and how often you think each parent should see the kids normally, during holidays, and for vacation time. You could also include details about how the child will be transported between visits and how you'll communicate regarding parenting decisions, among other provisions. Some parents might not want to factor the other parent into their custody plan, but the court will want to see that you'll allow the other parent to be part of your child's life. Keeping the other parent away from your child (for reasons other than safety) could backfire.

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