There are four things that you must do to win a custody battle, but they are probably not what you would expect. As a professional psychologist, 13 years of my career was committed to doing child custody evaluations for the court before I switched over to positive psychology. Here is what I learned.
As a professional evaluator for the court, there are two worlds that are created for a child. Before parents separate, the child’s world is just one big whole like a circle. When mom and dad separate, for whatever reason, that world splits. And now we have mom's world and dad's world, and they are very different. Where do the kids belong? Right there in the middle Now, actually the kid’s world is larger than either mom's world or dad's world because the kids world includes both mom’s and dad’s world.
Research shows very clearly that the number 1 factor that creates negative outcomes for children in divorce is conflict. Specifically, conflict between the parents about the kids. Remember the kids are right in the middle. So, if we've got 2 separate factions that are fighting each other, shooting shots at each other, it's not safe to be right here in the middle. You have to understand where the kids are coming from because that's what's most important to the judge or to the evaluator. As a professional evaluator, I had to try to figure out what was going to be best for the kids. Now, I want to find a good resolution for the parents too because if life is better for both parents, then it's going to be better for the kids, but the focus is on those children. So, I'm looking for primarily what is the source of conflict, and both sides are really good and blaming each other for that conflict.
If you come into this custody evaluation with an adversarial mindset –“I've got to win this fight,” we've already got a problem. So, we have to take that word “winning” out for just a minute unless we apply it specifically to the children. That's who we want to win. I hope as I share these four main point with you, part of you is going to go, “Well, duh! I already knew that.” And part of you will think, “Wait, this isn't what my attorney is telling me.” I am not an attorney. Please do not look at this video as legal advice. It's not. I'm giving you relationship advice because I know that a custody battle can hurt children, and I don't want this to happen to your kids.
There are four things we need to do, in order to win, meaning, win for the children. Number 1, be authentic. Be real. Honestly, as an evaluator, I went into many of those evaluations expecting, (and I was never disappointed), that the people were going to put on their best face. And when I visited the home, there was wonderful things simmering on the stove and bread baking in the oven. It was the picture of perfection, it was the Pinterest moment, and I knew it was fake. I'm not saying that you are fake. But if you show up that way, it raises flags, for the evaluator and for the judge. I went in the homes where I thought, “This can't be real. This is not sustainable.” There was state of what you could call an unnatural tension. Where it felt like everything was going to fall back to where it was as soon as I left the home. I want you to be authentic. I want you to be yourself. Because you are a benevolent, generous, loving parent. Be that person.
You don't have to show up as this bitter, angry person who's fighting with the child's other parent. From an evaluator's standpoint, that's not a good thing. I don't want anybody endangering this child or this child's world which includes the other parent. I know that's not the typical advice that you would get from an attorney in an adversarial situation. I'm giving you relationship advice. I know this is going to fly in face of some conventional wisdom too because you're embroiled in this battle, this fight, right? Remember who's in the middle. You've got to be nice. And the other party may or may not be. In fact, there's a high likelihood that there's going to be some meanness going on, that there's going to be some bitterness and anger happening. Just make sure that's not coming from you. You be nice.
When I said, be authentic earlier, part of that is you must tell the truth. You also want to show up as the kind, benevolent, individual and human being that you actually are. Remember as an evaluator, if I'm evaluating this case, I want to see who you really are. That's why being authentic is so important. Well, are you a nice person? You know what? When you squeeze a tomato, what do you get? Tomato juice, right? What about when you squeeze an orange, what do you get? Tomato…. No. Orange juice. You squeeze something, you see what's inside of it. Custody evaluations squeeze people. And what's leaking out of you if it looks like anger and bitterness and animosity, then as an evaluator, I'm thinking, “Whoah! What's inside of this person?” And what happens when things get hard with the kids when you get that squeeze? You must be nice. And that's a little counter-intuitive as well. But it's so important to show who you really are.
Number three, I already give you a heads-up to. Be focused on the kids or the child. This is who it's all about in the first place. The judge knows that. The evaluator knows that. Your knowing that helps you to show up in a way that shows you truly have this child's interest at heart. So, when you're talking even to your attorney or to your friends, don't get into this bitter angry battle kind of language. Make sure that it stays focused on the child, what your children need, what their desires. We are not going to put the burden on them. I never asked kids, “Which parent do you want to live with?” That's such an unfair question. And it's kind of like asking, “Which arm do you want me to cut off?” They don't want to make that choice. That's way too much pressure for a kid.
We still need to be sensitive however to the other factors in their world and your issues are not their issues. Get that through your head. Your issues are not their issues. They've got a whole different take on this thing. And the overwhelming majority of children that I evaluated love both of their parents. And they don't always feel full permission to love their parents because of the bitter angry battle. You stay focused on the children.
Number four. And it kind of make me chuckle a little bit that I have to say this. Be a good parent. This is like a job application. When families would come to me in a custody dispute and I'm evaluating them, I want to know, “Are you a good parent? Do you have the children's best interest at heart? Are you authentic and genuine and truthful? Are you nice and civil? Can you interact with people? Can you facilitate this child's relationship with the other parent?” These are all the things I am looking for and that's why I wanted you to know these steps. On the last one, be a good parent. We all struggle. This is a stressful time, that doesn't always help performance. If you need some help with that, there are resources. Reach out to those resources.
Some of those tips might have surprised you, but they are so powerful. If you want to learn more about custody, click on the video “How to win child custody.” You'll get some of the same and some other ideas in that video.
If you need help with parenting, check out the Parenting Power-U, and let's meet up on the inside so I can give you some additional coaching and pointers along those lines. Schedule your breakthrough call at www.drpauljenkins.com/breakthroughcall.
Watch Dr. Paul on YouTube here.