For the past five years my sister has been blowing my mind with stories about the child-custody cases she’s witnessed while running her family-law practice. This extensive research (five years, people), has so far culminated in the following five surprising ways a perfectly good parent can lose custody in a divorce case:
1. Be the mother. The presumption that mothers have the upper hand in custody battles is a fallacy. Today, Dads have the advantage. My sister thinks it’s because judges are so used to fathers abandoning their kids that they to get all impressed when one petitions for custody. (Even rapists can sue for custody of the offspring from their attacks.) My sister has seen mothers lose custody for the following stupefying reasons: Having a job. Not having a job. Dating. Not dating. Using daycare. Not using daycare (in which the mother is seen as “enmeshed” in the child’s life, a negative buzzword almost exclusively reserved for women). Shedding tears during trial, etc. In short, mothers need to be saints just to be taken for granted, while fathers are hero-ized just for showing up.
2. Drop the charges. Many a parent has filed a temporary protective order (TPO) during the duration of the marriage, then dropped the charges after succumbing to the pleadings of their spouse, only to later lose custody of the kids in the divorce. Why? Because in family court, a dropped accusation is considered a false one, and the court takes very unkindly to false accusations of abuse. (Also, think about it: Dropping the charges does not benefit the kids, it benefits your abuser. Ironically this documents a pattern on your part of not putting the needs of the kids at a precedent.)
3. Take a Court-Ordered Psychological Assessment. Most county courts still use the Rorschach test, which was developed over a hundred years ago. This test is less accurate than a rooster pecking out winners on a racing form. And it’s subjective. I don’t care if you’re a saint, the evaluator can interpret the results to say you’re a serial killer if she wants. This means that, if the evaluator already has an opinion of who she wants to recommend to the judge (and they always do), the test results will just be presented in a light to bolster that bias.
4. Get a Guardian ad Litem. A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a person appointed by the judge, usually at the request of one of the parents, to make a recommendation on who should get custody. Judges usually accept their recommendation with rubber-stamp regularity. The problem is that many GALs are not parents themselves, inexperienced, duplicitous, downright criminal, just plain nuts or any combination of the above. Don’t get me wrong. There are good ones (believe me, I know), but the pool can be pretty polluted.
5. Move away. No custodial parent ever wins a petition to relocate. Just look what happened to Halle Berry, who should have known better.