Why Custody Cases Are a No Win Situation
And Why You Shouldn't Congratulate the Parent Who's Been Granted Custody
When I was granted sole physical and legal custody of my daughter, the overwhelming response from most friends and family was, "Congratulations, Yay! You won! It's over," or some variation of that.
By definition, the word win means to acquire or secure something as the result of a game or competition. I can only speak on behalf of myself when I say that the past few years can be classified as almost anything other than a game. A nightmare maybe, an almost constant storm of dark clouds and frequent bursts of high turbulence yes, but most definitely not a game!
If you are congratulating the fact that the child involved can hopefully start to regain their peace of mind and settle back into normalcy, then I accept your congrats on behalf of all children involved.
The sad truth is that so many people, often times even the parents involved view custody cases as a parent vs. parent competition. In their distorted view of competition, there is one win and one loss, case closed end of story. People often fail to consider the human beings who, by no fault of their own, get caught in the middle of the crossfire. Even if only one parent views it as a game that alone is enough to make the child be subjected to much more than they should be.
So if you're going to keep score and tally wins vs. loses then you must not overlook the significant amount of losses suffered by the child.
I watched my daughter lose sleep, trust, routine and, in a way, her innocence. She lost her sense of right/wrong and good/bad. When a child sees the two people that they love the most walking, talking, and handling a situation in two polar opposite ways, who are you supposed to believe is doing it the right way? When all you hear are horrible things about someone you love you start to question everything, down to your core belief system. That would be difficult for an adult to process, but imagine experiencing that as a child! That's truly devastating. I watched her become angry, confused, unsure of herself, and her parents. I watched her feel obligated to pick a side, maybe out of fear or loyalty, but either way it doesn't matter, either way is unacceptable. I watched her shut down and lose her spark that I feared might never come back.
I debated filing for custody for 3 years in hopes that we could come together and do the right thing for our daughter—the right thing being to maturely co-parent with her well-being as the driving force for all our actions and decisions.
Unfortunately, my wishful thinking came at a price. When I finally realized this situation was far too unhealthy to try to resolve on our own, and when certain circumstances were putting her safety and well-being in jeopardy, it was too late to shield her from it. She was older now. She was much more aware and mature than she would have been if I had filed when she was still a toddler. If you still see this as a game, then by all means don't forget to mark another tally in the lose box.
To all those who see the "game" as finally being over, that couldn't be further from the truth. After custody is granted and the dust settles, it's now time to work on all that has been damaged or lost in the process. Not to mention the realization that the manipulation and control tactics don't just end because custody was granted. Now you must wait and see how the parents will act without the eyes of the court system upon them every few weeks. Will the drama finally lessen or will it increase tenfold? Will the negative parent talk get worse because they feel the repercussions won't be enforced anymore? Will every issue that comes up, from clothing to how to properly treat a fever, bring up threats to file new motions as an ongoing power trip? If so, mark another loss for the child.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I'm not attempting to be overly negative or dramatic. I'm just trying to show the reality of these types of situations. They are not as cut-and-dry as they appear to be from the outside looking in. My hope is to change the insensitive view on cases such as these. Being granted custody in a high-conflict case is just the very beginning of the road towards healing and rebuilding. And while yes, it is wonderful that the child is (hopefully) now placed in a healthy stable home, it doesn't take away from the fact that there was so much suffering and loss along the way.
So the next time you're quick to congratulate or praise someone who was recently granted custody, please consider the long road it took to get there. Please take into account the person who, in one way or another, lost so much through this experience.