Q. My son’s mother and I have been in a custody battle ever since we broke up a year ago. We can’t agree and she often won’t let my son come see me when it’s his turn to be at my house. A few months ago, I met a wonderful woman, and she has been at my home the last few times my son has been here. He evidently told his mother, and she has gone crazy, saying she wants full custody. Add to that her terrible rants about me and my girlfriend on social media, lying about how we met, and the type of woman she is, I just don’t know what to do. Can my ex really get full custody because I’m dating? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. So many parents run scared when the other parent threatens full custody, but the truth is, full custody is granted far less these days than you think. Dating rarely has anything to do with it.
Unless a parent is proven to be a danger to a child, it has been my experience that the court will support both parents remaining in the child’s life. Then it’s up to the parents to stop acting like spoiled babies and look for ways to work together in their child’s name. If she can’t do that, and you can prove that she won’t work with you, her behavior may actually backfire, and although you may not get full custody, the parent who is most likely to support the child’s relationship with the other parent is usually the parent who is awarded the most time with the child.
Now let’s talk about social media: Everything in print, from texts to posts on Facebook or Instagram, is admissible in court. Badmouthing on any level is frowned-upon. Judges and child custody mediators see this behavior every day and most have grown impatient with the pettiness and bad judgment of those who use social media as a vehicle to badmouth or bully.
Parents who do this don’t realize that it’s not only their friends who read their posts, but if they are “friends” with their child or their child’s friend, or their child’s friend’s parents, all can read the venom. I’ve seen children prevented from playing with friends because a post from an angry parent looked “crazy” and a friend’s parent didn’t want her child at that “crazy” parent’s home.
So, be aware of what you’re doing when you post. You could be affecting your own time with your child.
That said, concerning your girlfriend being at your home when your son is there…make sure you know where this relationship is going before you get your son involved. It’s human nature to want to date, and you may feel ready, but you have to ask yourself, is your son ready? It’s obvious your ex isn’t, but you’re both adults and must work that out between you.
Your child, on the other hand, may not have the ability to emotionally discern what’s true and what’s not when it is said and if you continue to fight, most kids eventually say they don’t want to go to the other parent’s home. It’s because they hate the arguing, not the other parent.
Know this: If you put a child in the middle, he will eventually find a way to get out. Your job is to keep him from feeling as if he must make that decision. If it takes reaching out to an angry ex, that’s what you do. That’s good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.)