Disrespect toward the court can weaken a custody case: Leveraging this point to your advantage.

Posted July 20th, 2016.

Categories: Custody Tips, Family Law.

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Many years ago, in Kansas City, Missouri, a mother involved in a child custody dispute took issues into her own hands. The case was Shepard vs. Shepard, and the mother in this case had little respect for the orders of the court. To quote the judge in the case, “If they do not please or satisfy her she feels perfectly free to ignore the whole proceedings, to go her way and do all she can to prevent such orders being executed or obeyed. A person with such little regard for constituted authority can hardly lay claim to being an ideal person to direct the training and upbringing of a young child. Certainly her attitude towards the court, which she asked for relief, is a fact to be considered in determining the welfare of the child. It is not for the purpose of punishing her-but rather for the purpose of measuring her mental attitude toward law and order.”

As you might have guessed, the mother in the Shepard case lost custody of the child. In fact, the Kansas City Court of Appeals sent the child to a Home for Girls because neither parent was the appropriate custodian of the child. The Court said: “It is apparent from reading this record that plaintiff is thoroughly convinced in her own mind that defendant is a degenerate or else she is a perjurer. If the former is true, then she could never become reconciled to any court order which permitted the father to have his child in his custody for any length of time; and if the latter is true, then she cannot be considered a fit person to have the custody. The charges and the countercharges made by the husband and wife against each other, one of degeneracy, the other of immorality, have engendered such bitterness and hatred between them that the child, under present conditions, could not be raised in an atmosphere and surroundings free of such stench.”

The lesson to be learned from the Shepard case is that you must abide by the court’s orders, even if you disagree with them. Of course, it is always best for two divorced or separated parents to handle their child-related affairs without a court being involved. But once a case is filed, and the court has entered an order, the parties must obey the order strictly. Modifying the order as you see fit, and making unilateral changes, reflects disrespect for the order and for the entire judicial system. Likewise, impolite or obnoxious behavior in the presence of a judge will have the same effect.

If the other parent in the case has a pattern of ignoring court orders or disrespecting the court, then you can and should leverage this misconduct to your own advantage. Call the court’s attention to the other parent’s violations and contempts. Emphasize any statements or comments made by the other parent that reflect a disrespect of the court’s orders or a refusal to acknowledge the court’s authority. While the guidepost will always be the best interest of the child, a court may very well favor the party who shows respect while disfavoring the one who does not.

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