Divorce and custody cases can be a maze to navigate. The contradictory advice you receive from divorce attorneys often doesn't make it any easier. Hopefully, these not-so-consistent guidelines help provide some insight.
1. Don't over litigate. Don't under litigate. One of the worst things you can do when you're up against your ex in family court is file ridiculous petitions that make you lose credibility. Remember, if you file a petition alleging that your ex's fiancé molested your child, or that she is so uncooperative that you should be awarded sole custody, you have to prove it. If you can't, the judge may simply think you're a liar.
On the otherhand, you can't sit back and get walked over. The best defense is a good offense and, if the other side has determined to file every petition under the sun, you should return the favor. There's nothing that unsettles the opposing party more than being reminded they might not just lose their own petitions but may have to face the music when it comes to yours.
2. Don't settle too quickly. Don't refuse to settle. You filed the petitions you filed for a reason - contempt, modification in custody, increase in child support. They matter. So when it takes what you might think is an unreasonable amount of time for the court to address them, don't cave and give up just because you're exhausted. There are some petitions that are worth winning.
However, don't be stubborn just for the sake of being stubborn. There are some cases when both parties have both done so many wrong things that you just need to compromise. In some cases the real issue is learning how to communicate effectively with your ex. There's some cases where you're just going to rack up thousands in attorney fees for a small win. Don't give in to those temptations - no matter how much you feel your ex should suffer. Cut your losses, swallow your pride, and settle with your ex. The financial and emotional expense, otherwise, just isn't worth it.
3. Don't talk to your ex about the case. Don't refuse to communicate with them. So your ex is an emotionally, and borderline physically, abusive nightmare? Someone you finally had the strength to end your relationship with only to be sucked back into dysfunctional ways of communicating in family court? Don't talk to her. That's why you have an attorney. To stand in between and do the fighting for you.
On the flip side, talk, talk, talk to your ex-spouse. That's why we have mediation. That's how you avoid endless litigation and court fights. If you don't talk to your ex, the only people who can talk are your attorneys. And that costs time, money, and as the case continues on, endless amounts of emotional expense. Learn how to communicate - because you're probably going to be talking to them well into the adult-hood of your child.
4. Don't put your children in the middle. Find out what your children are thinking. One of the most destructive things you can do to your children in the midst of intense custody litigation is to try to influence them. Alienate them from the other parent. Make them pick sides. Emotionally manipulate them. Don't do that. You will hurt yourself and your children and years later, when they can formulate their own opinions, they will probably resent you.
On the other hand, if you want to save yourself months of court time and your savings account, you should know what your children are thinking. Did little Johnny really say that Mom called you a bad word? Does your sixteen year old daughter really want to live with her father? Guess what. If she does, and has good reasons, the Guardian ad Litem is probably going to agree with her.