Emily agreed during the divorce proceedings to share custody of their two children with her ex-husband Bob, but she began to regret her decision after seeing the state of the kids when they stayed at his house every other weekend per the divorce decree.
When she picked them up on Sunday night, the children generally were tired, cranky, unkempt and behind on their homework. Bob would let them eat junk food, stay up late watching movies or playing video games, and sleep in late the next day. The kids quickly were beginning to label her as the “unfun” parent who was overly strict, made them do chores and pursue good grades in school.
After six months of allowing the children their weekend visits at Bob’s house, Emily decided to talk with her family attorney about changing the custody arrangements to nip the problem in the bud. She told her attorney that Bob’s influence was having a detrimental effect on the children and she wanted it to end.
Her attorney explained that the courts strongly consider whether a change in custody would be in the best interest of the children, based on factual and compelling evidence. For instance, a parent may have a legitimate concern that the ex-spouse is engaging in physical and verbal abuse of the children.
In the course of deliberations, the courts also take into consideration whether changes in custody would have detrimental effects on the daily routines of the children, the attorney said. Sometimes the courts will allow changes in custody as children grow older, as the roles of parents may change from the time when the initial divorces were finalized.
Emily said she didn’t like Bob’s free-wheeling parenting style, but she conceded that the children had solid attendance at school and were achieving good grades. She said she could prove that the kids sometimes showed up Sunday in the same clothes they wore on Friday and that they ate foods with a high content of processed sugar and fat. She also could prove that they stayed up well beyond the bedtime she set during the weekdays and that they played video games that she wouldn’t allow in her house.
Her attorney cautioned Emily that while all of her assertions may be true, they very likely wouldn’t sway the courts into changing custody. On the contrary, the courts may frown on her filing a motion to change custody for relatively minor causes – a request that may only further damage her relationship with Bob and possibly upset the children.
A better course of action may be to try to obtain Bob’s cooperation – outside of court -- to adopt more responsible parenting, the attorney said. Good starting points would be to reach some basic agreements on bedtime, homework, and types of movies and video games that are suitable for the children.
While Emily felt frustrated at continually having to be the adult for both the children and Bob, she saw the value in taking initial steps -- outside of the court system -- to resolve the issues. As she thought about it, it was worthwhile to make a good faith effort to improve the situation of the children without causing the discord that a legal proceeding may cause.
Further, she preserved her legal options should things get out of hand. Should her attorney have to file a motion to change custody, the court may look favorably on the fact that she made strenuous efforts to resolve the issue directly with Bob.