Family law cases not only take a lot out of you as a participant in the case but can also have a profound effect on your child. The irony is that you and your child’s other parent filed the case to help your child, but ultimately the effect could be a negative one. It only adds to the problems when your child has little to no say so in the process. They are in a position where they are totally reliant, for the most part, on you and your opposing party to have their best interests advocated for.
What gets lost in the “custody battle” is that you and your opposing party go into the case with the best of intentions, and then the next thing that you know, you all are ankle-deep in the muck of a child custody case, and your child’s life hasn’t improved one bit as a result. The unintentional result of the case can end up being the stunting of your child's emotional development.
Judges have the ability to play a role in this process by shifting the focus of a hearing or trial onto matters that are intended to benefit your child rather than facilitate angry and hostile feelings between you and your opposing party. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan would like to present the methods that your judge may choose to employ in your own family law case to allow you an opportunity to understand their potential impact on you and your child.
Determining what is in the best interests of your child is a difficult task to take on.
Children are people. Incomplete, changing people. As a result, it would be unjust to assume that they will react to certain conditions in the same way you or I would. Children feel grief, the sort of grief associated with the death of a loved one, as a result of the breakup of their parents’ relationship. The stability that had once been the preeminent factor in their lives to that point has eroded to the point that a child custody battle is now ongoing.
Emotions like anger, anxiety, guilt, and denial are all commonly experienced by these young people. If you and your spouse do not work with your children to progress past these feelings, they can suffer developmental problems. All of this is made even more difficult when we consider that you are going through a tough time and need to identify your own problems to deal with them directly.
While I am not able to tell you that your actions or judges will be able to all of the potential risk of harm that could be suffered by your child as a result of their being involved in your child custody dispute, it is possible to minimize the effects of your case on the child through diligent planning as well as the intervention of a contentious judge.
Consider the temperament of your child regarding a parenting plan.
Suppose you and your spouse can avoid going to court to have a judge decide the issues in your case. That is a superior option for engaging in a long and drawn-out legal battle. This is especially true if your child is not one who adapts well to change. I would recommend that you seriously ask yourself what type of temperament your child has, and then you can assess whether or not a long, drawn up custody case is really going to serve your child's best interests. If rather than fighting for every last issue that you have in dispute with your spouse, you figure that it is better to spend the time and money on your child (counseling? Therapy?), then that would be an ok decision to come to.
Many families go into these custody cases believing that they are doing the right thing for their children. Still, in actuality, they are only considering their belief about what their child needs. An alternative would be to speak to your child and observe how they are reacting to the case. If you perceive that your child is suffering unduly because of your case, it may be time to move towards a resolution rather than continued fighting.
Your child’s temperament should also impact the sort of visitation schedule that you come up with regarding your child. How your child has reacted and changed (if at all) since the time of your separation from your spouse may tell you all that you need to know. If you know that your child tends to be withdrawn and anxious in new situations, it may not be wise to push for dramatic changes in how he can spend time with his parents. Consider how flexible your child will likely be when it comes to adapting to the new realities of splitting time between his parents’ homes.
Your child may be more resilient than most.
All of this is not to say that your child will suffer irreparable harm as a result of your involvement in a family law case. Certainly, the fact that his parents engaged in a long and drawn-out legal case during his formative years will not be a positive thing for your son, but it also doesn’t mean that he will be tremendously worse off, either. Many kids can be like ducks and let the waters of life roll right off their back without bothering him.
Certainly, children that suffer from physical or mental disabilities are likely not as resilient (through no fault of their own) as other children in similar situations. Children with disabilities thrive in environments that are stable and predictable. Getting a divorce and heading to court to repeatedly fight over issues related to the case are detrimental to your child's immediate well-being, even if the results are positive. You need to be aware of those trade-offs before engaging in a case like this.
What about children with disabilities?
If you are a parent of a child who has a disability (mental or physical), you are well aware of the challenges you and your family face daily. Even in the best, most stable of times for your child, he or she must withstand the difficulties that their disability forces them to face. Certainly, it is understandable that you would be concerned that your divorce would worsen those daily struggles. The stability that used to be a hallmark of your child's life will be compromised, at least in part, due to the divorce. What can be done further to protect your child’s life in these cases?
Children with disabilities do not follow the traditional development track of most children. Different expectations should be allowed for these children, especially during difficult times like a divorce or other child custody cases. In your case, the judge will seek to learn as much as she can about your child to allow her an opportunity to make wise and well-informed decisions as to what is and what is not in the best interests of your disabled child.
What specific information needs to be made known to the judge? First, the nature of your child's disability and the prognosis for that disability need to be presented via the evidence that is admitted into the record. Is the disability permanent or temporary? What are the chances of seeing an improvement in their condition? What sort of impairment is inherent in a child with that specific diagnosis?
It is sometimes necessary to bring in an expert or even a treating physician of your child if you and your spouse have a fundamental disagreement about the nature of your child's disability. This is not common in cases that I have been experienced, but it does happen and should not be something that catches you by surprise. Parents in these circumstances have fundamental disagreements about how to treat the condition that their child suffers from.
Next, how involved have you been with caring for your child? What about your spouse? Which of you is more familiar with your child’s treating providers, and who takes your child more frequently to those treatment appointments?
If your child attends counseling or therapy sessions, that will need to be made known to the judge as well. Your child needs to be with other children their age who share in their hardships. Feeling that they are not alone and hoping to improve themselves is critical to their development. In your case, a judge will want to do everything possible to ensure that your child has an opportunity to continue to take part in those activities consistently.
How the development of children of different age groups differ from one another
As a parent, I’m sure that you would agree with me that your child did not have the same developmental needs at age two that he did at age 12. With children of different ages coming through their courts, judges are aware of their different needs. You should keep in mind the following information when making arguments in court.
An infant is completely dependent on his parents to care for him and provide him with life necessities. These children are the most vulnerable to routine changes and require supervision, guidance, and stability that is more pronounced than older children. Through their relationship with their parents, they can develop a sense of trust and understanding of the world around them. Obviously, a child custody case that threatens to disrupt that sense of stability and belonging can be severely detrimental to that child's development.
Your infant's temperament and environmental factors need to be considered by a judge before making "best interest" decisions for the child. This can be made difficult because the judge will likely never interact with your infant and will not ascertain this information directly from the child as a result. Things that are basic as language development are occurring in the lives of these children. Therefore a disruption to their near-constant learning can set a child back a great deal.
Things that we take for granted are not as simple to a child. Recognizing a loved one's face, learning how to grip a fork or knife, and the smell of a pleasant odor are skills that need to be acquired by a child and are typically done in their infancy. These truths need to be taken seriously by you, your spouse, and the court to ensure that your child can continue with the development path despite the upheaval in their lives brought about by your divorce.
I will make the last point in today's blog that an infant requires around-the-clock care. Not only is a child of this age prone to feelings of abandonment at the drop of a hat (ask any parent who has taken their infant to daycare about this), but infants also are learning how to deal with feelings of fatigue, hunger, and pain that caregivers need to be responsive to. Supervision is required once your child becomes mobile and able to function more autonomously. Keep these factors in mind as a judge determines custody issues between you and your spouse.
More on developmental aspects of child custody cases will be posted in tomorrow’s blog.
I am excited to share with you more factors that judges consider when determining what is in the best interests of your child. If you have any immediate questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where your questions can be answered, and your needs can be addressed.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX child custody lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our child custody lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custody cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.