Two things I see most often from my clients in custody related matters: 1. focusing on what’s happening RIGHT NOW and 2. dwelling on the negative actions by the other parent. If you’ve been in a custody battle, perhaps you have said one of these complaints:
“the kids didn’t call before bedtime when they are with the other parent”
“the other parent is not being flexible with the schedule for the children”
“the other parent is making all of the decisions regarding the children, and not communicating properly (either timely or at all)” and on and on.
In these instances, my advice is: give your ex enough rope to hang themselves. Combative exes are their own worst enemies. Give them the opportunity to hurt their own cause, and they will always take it.
This can be a very hard thing for my clients to understand, as giving your ex “rope” is counter to human instinct. For example, your child is in distress and could benefit from speaking to a therapist, but your ex, with whom you share joint legal custody, won’t consent to therapy. The instinctual thing to do is to take your child to a therapist anyway. But by making a unilateral decision, even if it may be in your child’s best interest, you are ignoring an opportunity to let your ex “hang” themselves. What parent wouldn’t want their distressed child in therapy? A parent who is afraid of what their child might report to the therapist. Obtain a court order to get your child in therapy and then the court will become suspect as to why your ex doesn’t want your child in therapy. Your ex will end up hanging themselves in court trying to explain why your distressed child shouldn’t have a therapist.
Another reason to let your ex “hang” themselves: by being overly-proactive in the above scenario — by enrolling your child in therapy without a court order or your ex’s consent — you are actually hurting your own case. Your ex now has ammunition against you. Your ex can bring to the court’s attention your failure to co-parent and your failure to adhere to the joint legal custody order. You then become pegged as a “parental alienator,” buzzwords that courts love to use but unfortunately rarely understand.
Sometimes giving your ex “rope to hang themselves” means you must choose to do nothing, which is extremely difficult in the era of cellphones and email. It means you have to make a conscious effort to resist responding to your ex’s personal attacks in their snarky messages. The minute you fire back a snarky message of your own, you establish a record that your ex can bring before the court to show that you are the uncooperative parent, or at least as uncooperative as he or she is, which helps neither of you. And there is nothing more valuable in a family law case than one’s reputation before the court. One text message can change the court’s perception of a litigant.
The immediacy of text messages too easily brings out the worst in people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in court simply because someone hit the “send” button on their cell phone without thinking. Before sending an email or text message to their ex, they should always ask themselves: “Is this something I would take the time to sit down and write in a letter?” More often than not, the answer will be “no.”
When it comes to custody disputes, sometimes you have to resist your knee-jerk reactions and realize the best action can be no action at all. Let your ex spin their wheels, because inevitably, they will lose the end game.