Working in law enforcement, there were many mistakes I made along the way. One of the biggest was not always knowing the causes behind the complaints I responded to. Yes, I would respond to calls for stolen vehicles but why did the suspect steal it? I would break up large fights on a regular basis but what caused them in the first place?
It wasn't until years later I found out the cause of the majority of complaints I took onboard - family issues. Many of the fights, drunk driving arrests, thefts, and drug complaints could be traced back to family issues. Many arrests could have been avoided had there not been a family issue in the first place.
As an example, I can recall a few drunk driving arrests from a family member leaving during the middle of an argument. In order to avoid a physical altercation, they would leave the residence. However, they'd had too much to drink and wound up behind bars anyways.
Many family issues wind up being "resolved" by divorce. While that may seem like the end to the problem, it actually causes an additional problem when children are involved. I recently met Eric Campbell, CEO at National Family Solutions, and discussed many of the problems surrounding family issues.
Child Custody Disputes and the "Best For The Child" Standard
So what is the biggest reason why parents fight over the custody of their children? You would think they would be willing to do what is best for the child but that is not always the case.
"The single biggest factor is a father trying to establish his rights," says Campbell. "Most fathers just assume going to court will end in failure because the courts will always side with the mother. This is simply not true."
Speaking of what is "best for the child" standard, this is actually the governing law in most states. Courts will use this standard to decide custody status in most cases and likely decide joint custody when possible. So why joint custody?
"There is significant factual evidence that having both parents in a child's life will greatly benefit the child over a single parent environment," adds Campbell. "In most cases, a judge will grant some parental rights in order to establish a father/son or father/daughter relationship."
Children Are Often Used As Pawns
You have no idea how often I would see children used as the basis to "get back" at the other parent. There are many situations when a parent will drop off a child for visitation later than anticipated. This is done knowing the other party will be agitated as a result. While one party may feel good about the frustration it causes, the children are the ones who actually suffer.
It is never a good thing to put children in the middle of an argument and Campbell agrees. "We try to convey to every client that what's important is what's in the best interest of their children and not to get the kids caught up in the middle of a spiteful battle with their ex."
Dropping off children late for visitation is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to custody horror stories. Campbell recalls one that went way too far.
"When we first started this company about 10 years ago, we got a very distressed father contact us," recalls Campbell. "His 10 year old daughter stayed with him during their regular visits and expressed how she wanted to trim her hair but her mother wouldn't allow it. The father decided it's not a big deal and took her to the hair salon for a trim. When the girl went back to her mom's, her mother got so angry that her ex gave her daughter a trim that she shaved her whole daughter's head. Keep in mind that this was during summer vacation and the daughter had her first day of school a few days later."
Professionals Can Often Provide Level Heads
Someone looking in from the outside can often provide the best advice. This is due to them not being involved and not having an emotional stake in the results. Having professionals involved to evaluate the situation can help bring peace to an otherwise stressful situation.
"Over the years we've used a team of professionals including attorneys, private investigators, process servers and even a doctor who specializes in early child development," states Campbell. "All of them work together in a client's case to help."
Going back to the "best for the child" standard, how do you think a judge determines what is best? You got it - professionals. Doctors, lawyers, counselors, and more, are brought in to speak with everyone involved to make such recommendations to a judge. The courts use these professionals as they are well educated in these matters and can provide an unbiased recommendation.
Final Points to Remember if Involved in Such Disputes
So what would I do differently today? Thankfully, I no longer have to make that decision. However, I can tell you that empathy goes a long way and the children's best interest should be the focal point when making a decision. Campbell agrees and adds that everyone involved needs to keep the end result in mind.
"A lot of it has to do with looking at the "big" picture of the whole situation they are in. Most of the time people are caught up with what is right in front of them, or what they were just served and forget this is ultimately about developing a working relationship with the other party. If parents focus on the end goal of having an enforceable court order, a lot of the other issues they are having fall to the wayside."