January 2019

Think Twice Before You Take Parenting Matters to Court

Bob Derber

By Bob Derber

So there’s drama with your parenting relationship on how to raise your children. You have both lawyered up and are headed to court. BUT LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP!

This often occurs after the holidays. Drama abounds when you navigate who has the children on Christmas, care over school breaks and scheduling winter trips. If you are reading this, you survived, but possibly not unscathed.

When parents collide, you may ask a judge to make decisions on matters best left to parents. The judge has no intimate knowledge, as you have, about your children. At your first court visit, you will likely be referred to Family Court Services (FCS), a mediation process to encourage you to reach an agreement with your ex about custodial and parenting matters.

FCS staff are highly skilled individuals, but their workload limits the time to focus on your situation. They must often make a ‘best guess’ in matters brought to their attention. If parents cannot agree, here in Santa Cruz the FCS mediator makes recommendations to the judge, and these are often made into a court order by the judge. This typically includes custody, parent-time allocations, telephone contact with the child(ren) and other matters.

But think first. You and your ex may not get along, but you are still the ones who know what’s best for your child(ren). If you can compro- mise, you will likely reach a better re- sult than will the judge. As well, parental agreements, rather than court orders, are typically followed more closely by parents.

Conflict between you and your ex is highly disturbing to the child(ren). This alone is good reason to reach agreement. You may want your child(ren) to have a phone, your ex may not. Compromise! How about a phone which limits who can be called and regulates any internet access so your child sees only age-appropriate content. Also, if most the children in his/her class have phones, consider the social issues your child faces when ‘all’ his/her friends have a phone but s/he does not. Perhaps some input by a teacher may help.

Does your child want to be involved in a sport? Can you two agree on how participation costs will be shared? Can you both support him or her by attending practices and games? And when you exchange the children for visits, can you agree on a place and time that works for both?

Reach agreement on every matter you can so a court addresses only the areas where you cannot. If there is another professional involved, perhaps a child’s counselor who knows your son or daughter well, their recommendation might break a dead-lock. Make a list of items that you hope you can discuss and clear the way for the judge on all you can agree to. Often it is only one or two stumbling block where parents need an individual outside the family to make a decision.

Bottom line – even when the two of you cannot get along, there is little reason to introduce your child into these adult matters. Focus on the child, and avoid ‘punishing’ the ex. You may believe your ex is not supportive of academic goals for your child. This may be, and you will likely not change this. Reach agreements that take the other parent’s characteristics into account. If he or she is not strong on academics, perhaps you might agree that your child has access to a tutor! Consider how the skill-sets and priorities of each parent can be used to benefit your children best of all.

Explore all the options before you ask a third-party, including the judge, to make decisions for you. We are lucky to have the judges we do in Santa Cruz. Even so, they are not the parent of your child(ren).

If you have questions or observations, feel free to reach out to GUiSC. Emails to [email protected] are always welcome. Perhaps there is a topic you would like addressed. GUiSC is a service to support positive parenting in Santa Cruz. For 20 years, GUiSC seeks to foster happy and healthy Santa Cruz children!

Bob Derber is a local attorney practicing family law. He served as a State appointed Guardian ad Litem in high conflict matters in the State of Utah before returning to his home in Santa Cruz four years ago. Your situation may differ and the above is not intended to be legal advice to you in your own custodial matters. Be sure to consult with your family law attorney as appropriate if you need help in this area. Have questions for him to answer? Send them to [email protected]

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