Lancaster County Parents Can Avoid Custody Mistakes

going-bob-Lancaster-County-PennsylvaniaBy Robert M. Going, Jr., Attorney

Sometimes when you are going through a separation and divorce, it is hard to see beyond the ending of the relationship and focus on what’s most important: the well-being of your children. Judges weigh many factors when awarding custody, but the overriding consideration is the best interest of the child.

As a parent, if you lose that focus you could hurt your chances for a favorable custody agreement. Some of the biggest mistakes can occur when you let the emotions surrounding divorce get the better of common sense. Anger and distress can cause you to behave in ways that do not benefit your children or impress custody judges.

Likewise, if you have an amicable relationship with your ex-spouse, you may convince yourself that you can handle custody issues without a structured plan or regard for strict rules.

In matters of child custody, it is always wise to seek the advice of an experienced Lancaster attorney who can help you prepare for the custody process and avoid these common mistakes.

Neglecting a Separation Agreement

While there is no such thing as “legal separation” in Pennsylvania, Lancaster County couples who choose to separate are wise to draw up a legally binding civil contract known as a separation agreement. In the case of child custody, a separation agreement defines how you will make decisions regarding your children and how they will divide their time between both parents.

Establishing guidelines for temporary child support before the divorce is final ensures you are meeting your child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, housing, daycare, and medical expenses. A well-negotiated separation agreement also creates a clear plan for when and how often a child will spend time with each parent and how parents will handle making important decisions in the child’s life. Parents that fail to negotiate a plan that they must legally follow open themselves up to disputes and drama every time a new situation arises.

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Separation agreements also cover a host of additional issues, from alimony and health insurance coverage to property distribution and the handling of joint bills and debts. A Lancaster attorney experienced in family law can help you negotiate a separation agreement that addresses all the important issues in your particular family situation.

Using Custody to Get Back at Your Ex

Divorce is often a stressful process, filled with emotion and anger. Depending on the reasons for the divorce, it’s natural to feel like you want to inflict emotional hurt on your ex-spouse or exact revenge on them in some way. However, acting out on those feelings could end up backfiring on you, especially when it comes to child custody. The more you try to make things difficult for your spouse, the more likely your spouse will try to retaliate, resulting in a long, drawn-out, and drama-filled divorce for you and your children.

Remember, no matter what your spouse did in your marital relationship, the courts will typically still view a healthy relationship with both parents in your child’s best interests. A judge is not likely to rule in your favor if you try to keep your ex-spouse from seeing your child, or if you seek full custody simply out of bitterness and revenge.

Refusing to Co-Parent

In most cases, sharing one-on-one time with both parents is important for healthy parent-child bonding. Unless one parent is a danger to the child, a custody judge will generally consider co-parenting in the best interests of the child. For both of you to effectively co-parent, you need to be able to communicate and cooperate in making important decisions in your child’s life regarding everything from health to education. When it comes to child custody, it is never a good idea to let your feelings get in the way of civil communication with your ex.

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Pennsylvania courts are more likely to favor the parent who puts their child’s welfare above their self-interests, rather than a belligerent parent who refuses to compromise, or tries in any way to damage the relationship between their child and their former spouse. If you find yourself struggling to communicate effectively with your ex-spouse, a Lancaster lawyer can offer level-headed, objective guidance.

Venting Your Frustration on Social Media

For some people, sharing the biggest and smallest details of their lives on social media is as natural as breathing. However, when you’re in the middle of a separation or divorce, social media can become your worst enemy. Don’t be fooled: Nothing you share on social media is private or secure. It’s best to assume that anything you post will eventually find its way to the custody judge. A judge may see those Facebook rants about your soon-to-be ex-spouse and question whether you can successfully co-parent your child.

Complaining about court proceedings on social media won’t help matters either, especially if a judge instructed both parties to avoid discussing the case publicly. Other social media mistakes that can harm your custody case include posting private information about your children, photos of a new boyfriend or girlfriend, or photos of yourself enjoying a party lifestyle. In Pennsylvania, an opposing attorney can use your social media posts as evidence that you are an unfit parent. Play it safe and avoid social media entirely during divorce proceedings.

Not Respecting the Rules

Judges often issue a temporary, or interim, custody order when parents can’t agree to terms on their own. Divorce is a lengthy process, and it may take months or even longer to establish a permanent custody order. In the meantime, the interim agreement establishes who can make decisions for the child, where the child will live, and how visitation will work.

An experienced Lancaster lawyer can ensure you get a fair custody agreement, but it is up to you to respect that agreement to the letter. Don’t try to sneak in more time with your child, and never bring your child back late. Violating the custody rules, even just a little, may appear disrespectful, both to your spouse and to the court, and may result in less visitation time or even arrest. Conversely, don’t skip visits or reschedule time with your children. Sticking to the details of the interim custody agreement shows your spouse and the courts how highly you value time with your children.

Talk with an Experienced Custody Lawyer in Lancaster County

Hiring an experienced Lancaster attorney is one of the best steps you can take to avoid pitfalls in the child custody process. If you are a Lancaster County resident with minor children and you are facing divorce, contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster.

We offer compassionate, comprehensive legal services to help you deal with all matters related to child custody. We can review your case and provide the support, guidance, and legal care necessary to ensure you get a fair custody agreement.

Want to find out more about custody in PA? Read these articles and blogs:

Child Custody: Which Arrangement is Right for You?

How to Reduce Stress for Child Custody Proceedings

5 Common Custody Questions

A List of Common Custody Agreements

The ABCs of Child Care in Pennsylvania

5 Tips for a Better Custody Agreement

The Child Custody Checklist

6 Reasons to Consider Getting Custody of a Grandchild

Common Mistakes Parents Make in Custody Proceedings

Maggie Vergenes

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