As a divorce lawyer we are often accused by a disappointed party of employing a “scorched earth” approach to cases. The simple fact is that the losing party’s arrogance and entitled behavior is often why the Court awards custody to the other.
Scorched earth is the scorned parent’s pathetic excuse for failing to put the needs of children first, before their own. It is a sad lesson to many non-custodial mothers that the pain of childbirth does not guarantee any greater right to have custody of the children. These mothers, however, dismissed the warning of their lawyers, arrogantly assuming the validity of the urban legend, that their gender entitles a mother to sole legal custody, regardless of her behavior.
Examples of opposing parties’ behaviors are:
- Parent A* explained to the custody evaluator that she raised her children by thinking of them as dogs
- Parent B* informed the evaluator he ranked the children by whom he liked best to least
- Parent C* slapped her child causing a bloody nose, which she initially denied, then admitted, claiming that she was justified
- Parent D* gave his child to the neighbor to raise
While the parents’ arrogance differed, they were united in speaking poorly of the other party:
- overstating his shortcomings;
- using triggers words like illegal behavior, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and the old standby, physical abuse without supporting evidence;
- embellishing stories of inappropriate behavior of the other parent;
- opining how the children hated their father which meant they loved their mother;
- speaking of the children as being better without the other and her family.
During these character assassinations, the parent denied any personal contribution to the family problems and any shortcomings of their own parenting.
Bluntly, children need both parents. The Court assumes that during the custody evaluation process parents are on their best behavior. If the parent isn’t able to see the value to behave properly during the custody evaluation or see the value of the other parent and their extended family, then the Court has little faith the offending parent’s behavior will improve out of the spotlight of the custody evaluation.
So what do good mothers and fathers look like? Good parents understand and embrace the need for each child to have an appropriate independent relationship with each parent. The parents follow the Children’s Bill of Rights (http://www.childcenteredsolutions.org/resources/childrens-bill-of-rights-during-family-conflicts/) either instinctively or with prompting from their attorneys. Good parents worry more about whether they themselves are getting the children’s needs met rather than pointing out the other parent’s failures. Good parents never claim to be perfect, they do not blame the other parent for not making them happy, and never suggest that the other parent is leaving the children when there is a divorce.
A good parent never blames the other lawyer, the other parent, their own lawyer, or the system for the “loss” of the child. Rather, a good parent even in the face of a bad decision, gets therapy, learns what children need, find ways to spend appropriate positive time with the child, and never speaks negatively of the other parent. Children flee to the parent with good mental health, forgive the worst parents, and crave the love of both parents.
Children are one-half of each parent. Good parents know that even if the other parent is a stinker, no child wants to have that fact pointed out, especially by the other parent. Children understand what many parents fail to understand, that parental-child love is inclusive not exclusive.
*Composites of cases heard in open Court. Names and situations altered to protect the children.