Three Painful Facts about Brutal Child Custody Battles

Child custody battles are among the most emotionally fraught parts of any parent’s life, much less “just” the divorce process. But like every court case, there’s more people involved than just you, and in many cases, the other spouse is just as emotionally invested if not moreso than you are — and the child may be anywhere on the spectrum from “completely unaware the divorce is happening” to “begging for the divorce to not happen at all” to “completely supportive of one parent and not the other.” Factors like these lead to a few realizations that many divorcees do their best to not come to…but it will help you win if you accept them now instead of after the case is closed.

Painful Fact Number One: No One Cares How Evil the Other Spouse Is
It doesn’t matter if you’re divorcing Devourak the Razor-Faced Slug, Ruler of the 14th Circle of Hell — your opinion about your spouse is completely meaningless. There are a few very good reasons as to why. The first is precisely because divorce is a naturally highly emotionally-charged event, meaning that everyone around you is assuming that you don’t normally feel as violently about your spouse as you are acting right now.

The second reason is that, because child custody happens around the same time as division of assets, it can actually be directly monetarily valuable to you to act like your spouse is a demonic avatar. And people naturally get suspicious of people acting in extreme ways when significant amounts of money are on the line. But by far the most important reason is the last one:

The child is the important person in any custody battle. This isn’t just a moral statement; the family courts are legally bound to take the child’s best interests into account first and foremost. Which means that, no matter how vile your spouse is in your mind, if they put a good face on in front of the judge and the various factors that go into ‘child’s best interests’ favor them, they can walk away with the custody order in their favor.

Painful Fact Number Two: A Custody Battle Never Truly Ends 
Unless you’re willing to let the judge write your entire custody plan, you’re going to have to sit down with Devourak and come up with a parenting plan that will become the bedrock of all of your future interactions with your ex-, and a significant part of the interactions you’ll have with your child.

The problem being that life isn’t a skyscraper, resting comfortably on the firm bedrock of your parenting plan. Life is a river, and it’s one of those rivers that floods occasionally and completely rewrites its own path toward the sea. When it does, you can end up with a parenting plan that means nothing anymore. When you get fired, your spouse moves four counties north and joins a commune, and your child decides they don’t want to home school anymore and applies for a public middle school, suddenly everything has to change.

Which means that basically the whole process has to happen again — either you tell the judge about what happened and let them change the agreement according to legal guidelines, or you sit down with Devourak for another marathon planning session. And it’ll happen again in a couple of years when they quit the commune and move to the Upper Peninsula and your kid decides they need to attend seven different extra-curricular activities.

Painful Fact Number Three: There Are No Winners in a Custody Battle
Oftentimes, parents go into a custody battle wanting to ‘win.’ They might define it in different ways, from the obvious ‘get custody of Billy’ to the more devious ‘get Devourak to leave me the Jetta in exchange for letting him see Billy’ to the frankly dumb ‘hurt Devourak by taking Billy away.’ But the truth is that the legal system is designed to minimize the “victory” that either side can walk away from a custody battle with.

In fact, many judges have openly said that they know a custody battle has gone right with both parents walk away dissatisfied with the result. (Barring those circumstances when the divorcees can sit down and actually craft a plan both are happy with, and the judge doesn’t mess with it, naturally.)


What does all this mean? Simple enough: it means you should walk into every custody battle expecting to have your feelings ignored, to walk away unhappy, and to come back to do it again several more times depending on the age of your child. Does that mean it’s not worth putting your heart and soul into? Heck, no! It just means that you should be prepared for the fact that, unlike TV, doing your best frequently means you get a result that is just one notch above ‘barely tolerable’…and it’s still entirely worth it, because it’s not about you. It’s about the kid(s), and your ‘barely tolerable’ is often actually far better for them than it is for you or your ex.

Which is, after all, how it should be.

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