It is a sad but often true scenario. The non-custodial parent moves away and the custodial parent gets angry. Not that non-custodial parents NEVER get angry. They do. But there are a few pretty typical perspectives in a moveaway that breeds resentment. From the perspective of the custodial parent, you are escaping. You get freedom. You have options they don’t have. They are tied down. They have all of the responsibility. You have none. Gah! I know. I know that isn’t necessarily the case. I know it might not be true. But if you can TRY to understand that perspective, you’ll be a whole lot closer to defusing difficult situations.
That said, very often, long distance parents and custodial parents find themselves on the other side of smear campaigns both legal and towards their own children (Parental Alienation Syndrome). And while custodial parents might ALSO find themselves the subject of similar situations, in the case of a non-custodial parent, these campaigns can very often cost them custody, visitation and involvement in their child’s life and even their relationship with their own kids.
To avoid the worst case scenario, non-custodial and long distance parents need to be on their A game. They have to be proactive and they have to know HOW to prove that they aren’t the monster they are made out to be. Here are ten ways to do that.
- Be informed and educated. Know your rights, the law, your case and your judge. Read every piece of paper related to your case. Know what’s allowed and what’s not. Read up on divorce and custody in your district and your state. When do they have to accept your calls and how much notice do they have to give you? What do you need to provide to them and when? At the end of the day, it’s not your attorney or the other parent who will lose sleep or have regrets if you get the short end of the stick.
- Document everything. Not in your head. On paper. Every single line should include the date, time, witnesses and what happened. This includes phones that went unanswered, times that were missed, comments that were made and any actions that were harmful or hurtful. Even if it’s borderline or maybe even only personally hurtful. It’s better to have too much documentation than not enough. In your documentation, stick to the facts. If you don’t have specifics, it can’t be documented. Hearsay is not fact.
- Be a Pack Rat. Keep every piece or paper, every email, every text message, every picture, screenshot, recording. In 10 years, when your kids are grown up, you can have a big bonfire and celebrate not needing it anymore. But if you are in a toxic situation, every scrap of proof is evidence of your story.
- Disengage. When the custodial parent is unreceptive or angry, disengage. You will only get more frustrated and your concerns will not be addressed. They are legally responsible for maintaining an environment that is conducive to your parenting. If they don’t respond, stop beating your head against that unfruitful wall and take it to court.
- Don’t make excuses. You can be dirt poor and the court will still hear your case without charging you for it as long as it’s a case with merit. In California, we have a form for a fee waiver. Other states have similar but different ways to request help with your court fees. You don’t have to have an attorney to make a case if your case is sound and well documented. Divorce and custody court is not a trial by jury… it’s a judge listening to the facts. There are ‘self help’ legal resources in most states or districts if you look hard enough for it.
- Take responsibility. Are you really without blame? Are you really doing the best you can? Are you really healthy? Take a realistic stock of yourself BEFORE it comes up in court. Fix it, mend it, change your ways until you are completely confident you have done your best.
- Don’t be ridiculous. C’mon. Yes, it pisses you off when they miss your call – but sometimes, they have a valid reason. Temper your own emotions with reason. Don’t file stupid motions in court or the judge will stop taking you seriously. When you have to file something in court, make it worthwhile and weed out the stuff that was simply an insult to your pride.
- Have courage. Stand up for yourself and don’t be afraid to do it. Don’t threaten the other parent with it. They don’t believe you. They think they are right. Just bide your time, be thoughtful and methodical.
- Be content. When you get what you want or need, be happy with it. Celebrate your success to yourself without lording it over the other parent. Take it as a sign that you did a great job and that you’re on the right track.
- Maintain healthy boundaries. No matter what the custodial parent says, your personal life is none of their business. Your family, your choices, your religion, your relationships – all of those are yours, not theirs. Keep it that way.