“When I go into that courtroom, it’s just me. I have to answer for everything. I have to stand there alone.”
I shared these words with my husband because I didn’t think he understood how the pressure of going to court and having to answer about our parenting made me feel. I had been going back and forth to court for years and the process was having a huge impact emotionally, physically.
Each time I went, it became more and more clear that in our house, it was OUR parenting, but in the courtroom, it was mine. The reality is, as much as you may love your spouse and want what’s best for them, in that courtroom, none of that matters.
How the stepparent feels about the child doesn’t matter in most courtrooms.
What the stepparent feels is the cause of a child’s behavior doesn’t matter in most courtrooms.
Why the stepparent is responding a certain way to the child doesn’t matter in most courtrooms.
All that seems to matters are the opinions, perspectives, and experiences the parents and children have had. And even that is limited to what the judge or magistrate cares to hear (or the type of day they are having).
As much as the stepparent is impacted by the decisions in the courtroom, unfortunately, their opinion and input are not always valued. I would assume that occasionally when a stepparent is given the opportunity to be a witness, this gives them a degree of significance, but, in general, it’s the parents that play the leading role in this unfortunate and challenging situation.
My husband learned by walking with me through a custody battle some very important things that he talks about in his book, How to Support your Spouse through a Custody Battle, but here are some added perspectives that I want to share:
1. If at all possible, avoid going to court.
I get it, some people are just hard to get along with. But are there any other options that are less emotionally and financially draining to explore? If so, encourage your spouse to explore those first because court regulated custody battles are consuming and there is no way around that. They should really be a last resort.
If it is just personal dislikes, but you can work through it to parent together, do that. Sometimes, stepping in as a mediator can help.
The key to this is choosing not to take things personally but to remain confident in your position as one who is pursuing the best interest of the child without all the complicated emotions. See both sides as much as possible.
2. Have realistic expectations for what will be done in the courtroom.
Write down a list of 10 things you want to be accomplished and order them from most important to least important. More than likely, only two or three will be addressed, so make them good. The rest may qualify as bickering that you can work through or personal opinion.
Sit with your spouse and help them iron through the issues and what issues are of utmost importance and are fact-based and not purely opinion-based or emotionally driven.
3. Practice the 80/20 rule.
I share in detail how this works in my book Having Courage in your Custody Battle, but here is the basic idea. 80% of your time should be spent on living life, enjoying your spouse, enjoying your children, and 20% on engaging in the custody battle.
This rule helps a person to set realistic boundaries around the time they allow themselves to be consumed by the matters of the custody battle. Yes, the custody battle is important, but if allowed, it will consume your life and your marriage.
Help your spouse develop ways to respond to emails, texts, etc. that help them to still live for today and not spend so much time fighting in a battle that they have no memories or moments with the people they are fighting for.
Bonus Tip: Help your spouse see beyond the court battle.
Help them dream again. Help them to see that this too shall pass but in the passing of this, so is time with the ones they love.
Let them know that you are their #1 supporter but find ways to help them stay on the ground when they are invited to the roller coaster ride of crazy and chaotic that the custody battle can invite them into.
As a person going through a custody battle, what is most needed from our spouse is emotional support and stability. A place where our thoughts and opinions can be weighed against truth and timing. Someone to bring us back to reality so that we give value to every moment and don’t have precious moments stolen from us.
Being a spouse to a person going through a custody battle is about support, stability, and strength and although it may not be easy, it can strengthen your marriage and oneness if you allow it too. You can do it!
P.S. Here are great tips for negotiating child custody as you prepare for court!