Custody cases can be contentious, expensive and painful for all involved. Parents are often flooded with war stories of their cousin's neighbor's best friend three states away and are given misinformation from well-meaning acquaintances and coworkers. While custody laws vary from state to state, there are certain myths that are universally untrue. Here are a few:
- Mothers always win: While there was a time in which legal presumptions favored Mothers being the primary caretakers of the children, there are more and more cases with parents sharing joint/shared physical custody of their children and a growing number of fathers being awarded primary physical custody. This is in part due to changing social norms with dual income households and modern day dads taking more active roles in the lives of their children. Also, state laws have trended towards creating a level playing field for parents in which the best interests prevail. Certainly, cases in which the Mother is awarded primary custody are still common but it is far from the forgone conclusion it once was.
- Taking antidepressants will hurt your case: The opposite is actually true. It's not unusual for parents to be suffering from depression while divorcing and fighting for custody. Parents who are in treatment for their depression will generally be looked upon more favorably than parents with untreated symptoms that directly impact their ability to parent.
- We get along great, we do not need a schedule: When two parents can share their children without a set schedule it is fantastic -- until it's not. Throw a new stepparent or other dynamic into the mix and, suddenly, anarchy rules over order. Do the work on the front end and create a detailed agreement for the school year, summer and holidays. When you get along, put it in a drawer and forget about. On the day before a major holiday weekend when you both have plans that involve the kids and you're coming to blows, pull out the agreement and follow it. You may not win, but you have a built in tiebreaker without having to call the lawyers at the eleventh hour.
- It's better to fight for my kids than give an inch: So many parents feel that they must fight as hard as they can for as much time as they can get so that, even if they lose, they can tell their children some day how hard they fought. Whether you are four or forty, you do not want to hear about your parents' custody battle. It hurts. Fighting takes the decision about what schedule your kids are going to follow until they are 18 out of the hands of the parents and puts that important decision into the hands of a stranger, i.e. a judge. Sometimes there is no option but to go to court. Most of the time, it's best for the children for the parents to find a way to work it out.
- If the other parent doesn't pay child support, I can withhold the children: Custody and support are two separate issues. Parents engaging in the "self help" tactic of restricting parenting time because they did not receive their court-ordered child support are not helping themselves. Rather, the court will likely frown upon both parents and both parents will leave the courthouse equally unhappy.