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How to Survive a Child Custody Case

How to survive a child custody court case - tips and lessons learned

The goal after divorce or separation should always be to find  a way to create a peaceful environment for the kids. They deserve to have strong relationships and time with both parents without combating a parent’s guilt, resentment, anger or depression. While many couples are able to find a way to create this stable multi-home life, there are instances that instead create difficult child custody cases.

Going through a contested case is easily one of the most stressful situations you could face. By the time it gets to court, the fate of your children is largely out of your hands. Regardless of what you think is best or the recommendation from GALs or counselors, the final decision rests on the judge. A person that does not know you, your children or the whole story of your situation. For this reason alone, I’m firmly in the ‘don’t go to court unless absolutely necessary’ boat. It’s much easier in the long run if you can find a way to work it out with your ex without involving the children or the court system. Finding a way to compromise can be key to keeping the peace.

If you do find yourself in a heated court case, you will go through a range of emotions. I recently wrote about 4 common thoughts you may have based on a custody case I was involved in. It’s an emotional time full of stress, fear and a feeling of instability. The uncertainty and the waiting can wreck havoc on other parts of your life. It’s difficult to truly explain all of the emotions to someone who hasn’t had to go through it.

Here are a few lessons I learned on how to survive a contested child custody case:

Make sure you are doing it for the right reason. There are a lot of good reasons why a contested case moves forward, but there are also many bad ones. Are you truly doing this in the best interest of your children? Have all other options been explored? Are you still angry or emotional about your divorce or separation? It can be easy to misread a situation when emotions are running high. When you already feel betrayed, rejected or taken advantage of, it is possible to project those emotions on a situation when it isn’t warranted. Take the time to think through the situation objectively. Understand that the court process can be a long one and it will bring additional stress into your life and your children’s lives. Bringing a case to court should not be an emotional knee-jerk reaction.

Find a way to trust. A lot will be taken out of your control once you enter the court process. You need to be able to put your trust in something. It may be the court system, your lawyer or your faith. Whatever it is, having a level of trust will bring you comfort during the highs and lows of your case. The key to keeping order during this process is to find your center and to lean on it often.

Take care of yourself. When you get stressed it can be easy to overlook your own basic needs. You have to continue to take care of yourself at even the most basic level. Remember to eat, sleep and rely on your support system for help. Having the ear of an objective friend or family member is crucial. It’s easy to find people who will want to hear the gossip or talk bad about your ex and the entire process – you need a person who will not get emotional along side you. You need someone who can keep your feet firmly on the ground and offer you solid advice or observations. While custody cases are emotional, the court system is not. You need a way to convey clear facts and information without leaning on attacks or “look what this person did” rants.

Prepare yourself for every outcome. This is one of those situations where you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. If you can’t handle the worst case scenario then you need to seriously reconsider your approach or your entire case. The truth is, even if your case checks every box, the outcome may not be what you are looking for. You have to be prepared for all outcomes and you need to keep an open mind to compromises.

Be okay with the verdict. When all is said and done, you will have to accept whatever decision is made. Yes, there is an appeal process, but you have to be prepared to walk away at some point. Gaining an acceptance of your situation can be very freeing after months or years of questions and the unknown. Ensure you are able to close the book on this chapter when it ends and prepare yourself for moving forward with whatever the outcome may be. Even if you aren’t happy or feel that a mistake was made, your children need all of you. Being continually stuck in anger or disappointment will hurt them most of all.

Have you ever been through a contested custody case? Are there any lessons you learned through it all?

How to Survive a Child Custody Case

Amy Bellows, PhD

Amy Bellows holds a PhD in Psychology and has had the opportunity to work in various settings including leading adolescent group therapy sessions, working with victims of sexual assault, helping woman inmates adjust to post-prison life, conducting parenting education classes and assisting with drug and alcohol dependency treatment plans. The unique challenges and opportunities that come along with being a part of a step-family is a special interest of hers. Amy is currently working in the corporate environment with a interest in group dynamics and change management. You can find her on her website, or on Twitter @AmyBellowsPhD.

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APA Reference
Bellows, A. (2016). How to Survive a Child Custody Case. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Feb 2016
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