During custody hearings, every move that both spouses make is intensely scrutinized, both by the courts and the other party’s attorneys. As a result, fathers need to be especially cautious about what they say and do. Even simple things, such as posting a picture on Facebook while having a holiday cocktail, can be turned around to make a parent look bad in court. “Just remember: Everything in a divorce is exaggerated,” said Lisa Helfend Meyer, Certified Specialist in Family Law and founding partner of Los Angeles-based Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers. “So what is acceptable behavior for people who aren’t divorced can become verboten in a divorce.” With that in mind, these are the blunders fathers can make that could end up costing them in custody hearings.
1. Trying to Turn the Kids Against Mom
Because kids are caught in the middle of a divorce, and because emotions are running high on both sides, it’s not uncommon for a dad to vent to their child about the divorce or to try and win them over by telling the child how much better they are then mom. This is a major no-no, says Anne P. Mitchell, Esq., a California lawyer and the author of They’re Your Kids, Too: The Single Father’s Guide. “Never, ever put the children in the middle,” she says. “Never talk to them about what is going on in your divorce, and especially about how you feel about their other parent. The only thing that your children should be hearing about their other parent from you — or your friends and other family — is cooperative co-parenting messages. You are divorcing their other parent; the children are not.”
2. Posting on Social Media
Whether it’s posting pics of your new squeeze on Instagram or running down your ex on Facebook, an ill-timed or poorly thought out social media post can come back to bite you big time.“You have to assume that your ex is scrutinizing everything you post on social media, and passing it along to their lawyer,” says Mitchel, and that they will find something to use against you.
Moreover, even if you have a good relationship with your ex, you have to assume that their attorney is scrutinizing your social media accounts. And not only can you not know all of the things that an attorney can use that you may have considered innocent and benign, but you can’t even know what you don’t know.” Meyer recalled a seemingly innocent post that blew up in an ex’s face. “I had a client recently where he proposed to his girlfriend and they showed a 2 ½ carat ring on social media. Well, the ex-wife got a hold of it and went into court and said to the judge, ‘He’s crying poverty, but obviously he’s not that poor.’”
3. Transforming Your Kids Into The Messengers
In addition to hurling insults, using the kids as go-betweens can land you in hot water. Having the kids deliver messages, paperwork, or other sensitive items is not only selfish, it shows poor judgment. “I’ve seen things where parents have given children child support checks to bring to the other spouse,” says Meyer. “That’s really bad. A kid doesn’t want to say, ‘Here, Mom, here’s your child support check.’”
Mitchell also cautions fathers to consider that children’s perspectives will inevitably change. “Children have a funny way of growing up and leaving home,” she says. “And they start seeing what the reality was. You never want your children to look back and feel that you were attempting to alienate them from the other parent. And they will, if you do.”
4. Cutting Loose When the Kids Aren’t Around
When a divorce happens, there can be instances where the father decides to cut loose and party. It happens. That can stem from the pressures surrounding the divorce or even a feeling of having earned it after being married for so long. But this natural urge can be a critical mistake as, in an era where every single person is armed with a camera, one bad night can follow you right into court. Even an isolated night of drunken rowdiness can carry long-term consequences, says Meyer. “As an attorney,” she says, “you’re going to argue that it’s not just circumstantial related to the divorce, but that it’s more about the person’s character. That the person is doing this in the workplace or in social situations and they have a personality disorder.”
5. Bringing Up Supposed Mistakes the Other Parent Has Made
Sometimes a father will try and curry favor with the court by pointing out things that the mother has done that he thinks are bad in the hopes that the court will agree with him. These can include allowing the child to watch R-rated movies or eat fast food. The problem is many of these things come down to individual choices that the other parent has made and, unless they are actively harmful, most of the time the court won’t care. “Any time a father tries to make the mother look bad for what are essentially parenting choices,” Mitchell says, “it will backfire.”