A child custody case is often among the most divisive and personally visceral case one can litigate, from both the attorney’s and party’s point of view.
A custody order can go a long way to helping resolve many items of dispute, including where the child will live/sleep and when and how often. A custody order also goes a long way to help estranged parents sort out how the holidays are to be distributed in a reasonable way.
Unfortunately, however, custody orders can only go so far. A custody order cannot make the estranged parents suddenly get along. It cannot make the other parent more reasonable or nicer or less contentious. It certainly cannot make the other parent go beyond its terms.
Perhaps equally unfortunate is that a custody order – while potentially very expansive – cannot possibly include every single contingency and variable life presents. Similarly, sometimes custody orders are left purposely vague (or with a range of options to be determined later) regarding certain issues to allow the parents to reasonably deal with them as they arise. Often times, the parties agree to these more vague sections at a time when they are getting along only to have those sections quickly become points of contention and disagreement when the parties go through a rough patch.
When these sorts of issues crop up, one must realize that there is only so much a court, judge, custody order, and/or attorney can do. A custody order can certainly become immovably ridged, but most people do not like the prospect of such rigidity as it does not allow for the inevitable variables that happen in life. The fact is, custody orders are a good start but they will never be able to completely address and resolve all issues.
Ultimately, if you want your custody situation to improve, the relationship between the parents must improve to one where issues can be worked out reasonably through honest and open discussion. I would suggest family counseling, or co-parenting classes, as an option to help this process.
The most important thing to remember is that a custody situation is about the child(ren) and not about you. So, when you want to ask for something from the other parent, are you doing it for yourself or for the child(ren)? When everything inside you wants to say “no" to that request, are you doing it out of anger, revenge, or spite toward the other parent? Or do you honestly think the request is not appropriate for the child? When you get told “no," are you able to hear that answer, understand its rationale and/or try and work it out, despite your emotional response to lash out and wait for an opportunity to say “no" to the other parent out of spite and/or revenge? Do you honestly think it would be better and/or more fun for your 12 year old son to stay home with you this Saturday night because it is “your weekend" even though his dad unexpectedly scored free tickets to a Phillies game from his boss today for that night and wants to take him? Do you honestly think your daughter wants to be with you, her dad, on the night of her prom even though it is technically “your weekend"? Do you honestly think spending time with you in the summer hanging around the house is better for your kids than an opportunity to go to Disney World with the other parent even though it may not be technically that person’s time according to the custody order?
Remember, even though you may win a “victory" by “getting more custody" or scoring some revenge on the other parent, you will ultimately lose the war because you will only accrue anger, spite, disappointment, annoyance, and ultimately a deteriorating relationship – not just with the other parent – but more importantly with the child(ren) whom you are allegedly trying to love in this process. Children know and/or intuit far more than the average parent realizes; your son knows when the “no" to the Phillies game is more because you can’t stand his father than any other good reason. The fact is, that man or woman you cannot stand is more than likely the mom or dad your child loves, and disrespecting and/or mistreating the person loved by your children will only serve to deteriorate the relationship you, yourself, have with your children. Your children know – and can easily intuit – when they are used as pawns and it will only hurt you in the long run to use them as such. Always remember that, absent extenuating circumstances, the other parent is as equally a parent as you are and loves your children just as much.
So, in sum, put your pride away and remember that what is best for your children is what is central, not you or the other parent. Don’t make your custody situation about you or the other parent. Your relationship and feelings toward the other parent are largely irrelevant. Most of the issues that crop up are simple; figure it out and just do it. It’s almost never as important in hindsight as you think it is now. Keep in mind that the other person is “mom" or “dad" to your children and loved as such. Respecting the other parent will go much further to earn your children’s love than the opposite.