For a long time, it was almost expected that after a separation, the parents would fight over who got “custody” of the children, but changes were made to the law in 2006 to promote the idea of “equal shared parental responsibility”.
These changes were designed to give children the right to a meaningful relationship with both their parents and the ability to spend significant, if not equal amounts of time with both their parents. That was the theory and sadly it has left many fathers disappointed and disillusioned.
If you do end up having to go to court to get parenting orders that let your children spend significant amounts of time with you, or allow you to be involved in making long term decisions for them, there are things you need to know to avoid, to make your case stronger before the judge.
- Don’t slag your ex: Part of the court process is giving your side of the story. This is done in a court document known as an affidavit. DO NOT use your affidavit as a means of denigrating your ex. Don’t try and make them out to be a monster towards the children, or someone with loose morals or a life-long drug habit. Sometimes your Ex will be some or all of these things, but don’t dwell on them. Make the statement if needed and move on.
- Acknowledge The Positives: Acknowledge the good things about your ex and the way they have acted as a parent in the past. Get over your feelings of hatred, betrayal or whatever and don’t let them find their way into your affidavit. It will come back to bite you, and judges don’t really want to hear about it, unless it’s directly relevant.
- Don’t argue: If you haven’t been a parent for all that long, or your ex makes you out to be a really bad one with no idea how to treat children, the judge may order that you and probably your ex undertake a parenting program. This is common, and quite beneficial, even for really good parents. So don’t argue the point, comply and go and do it.
- Be Cautious About What You Say and Write: There’s a line you hear in the movies when someone is being arrested: “anything you say, can and will be taken down and may be used in evidence against you.” This is certainly true when you’re involved in a parenting dispute in the family court. And you don’t even have to actually say the words: anything you write in a text message or put on Facebook can be used against you. Social media is not your friend. Avoid the temptation to give your ex a spray on social media. If you do, expect it to be part of her affidavit showing the judge how callous you really are. Stay silent on social media, and don’t get into heated email or text exchanges with your ex either. They can be printed out and shown to the judge too.
- Don’t involve the Children: Never, ever talk to the children about adult things. They won’t understand, and it will get back to your ex, who will make a point of telling the court that you’re trying to involve the children and turn them against her.
- Remain Within The Truth: Don’t make false allegations of physical or sexual abuse against your ex. It will bring in all sorts of agencies from Community Services to the Police and apart from wasting public resources, can really work against you when the judge makes their decision. It can even result in you paying everybody’s legal costs as well as your own.
- Think About the Children: You have NO RIGHTS to see your children or spend time with them. Any judge will quickly tell you that the children are the ones with the rights, so don’t insist on sharing the children 50/50. Depending on the age of the children, this can be a disaster for them. Consider what is in the best interests of the children, because that’s what the court will order. Young children have a primary carer: their mother and the court will make orders that keep the child with their mother for the majority of the time when they are very young. So don’t expect you can have the children week on, week off until they are old enough to cope with it.
- Both Parents Are Important to Children: Don’t be self-righteous about the children. They have two parents and you will have to compromise with your ex about how much time they spend with you and with her. This is not a game, and the children are not pawns: they will grow up loving you for what you’ve done, or hating you for it.
Before you go to court you will have been to a mediation with a counsellor who will explain the what and why of things that are in the best interests of the children. If you listen and are prepared to make concessions at this point, you won’t even have to go to court. This saves a lot of time and money all around.
If you do have to go to court, you can do a lot to advance your case by considering these 8 tips.
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