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He Says He’ll Claim I’m an Unfit Mother if I Don’t Sign Over Custody

If you are involved in a divorce and have children with your spouse, the entire process can be more emotional and complex from both a legal and personal perspective. While it is generally good advice that you should conduct yourself in a reasoned and calm manner when communicating with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, there are limits to civility. You do not want to concede anything that will affect your parental rights once the court is involved. The judge will be the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the custody order for your child, which means that whatever your child’s father threatens, he is unable to affect your parental rights without convincing a judge that you are an unfit parent.

If your spouse is willing to threaten you with the potential of calling you “unfit” as a parent, then there are likely no limits to the lengths at which he will go in tarnishing your name and image in court. Signing over custody has permanent consequences and is not something you should do just to avoid accusations from an angry spouse. You should never agree to terminate your parental rights or permit the child’s biological father to retain full custody if you want full custody of your child. A judge will consider your desire to parent your child and be involved in his or her life in issuing a final custody order.

When it comes to determining whether a parent is fit or not to have custody of a child, the court will go through an analysis of the child’s best interests. Although the judge might entertain testimony from the child’s father about why he thinks you are an unfit parent, this does not necessarily mean that the judge will agree with that assessment and is certainly not bound by the law to give the child’s father’s testimony equal weight with other more credible evidence when making a final determination about your child’s custody arrangements. That said, it is important to maintain a civil tone when communicating with your spouse in voicemail messages, texts and emails because they could become part of the court record if your child’s father wants to try to demonstrate to the judge that you are acting in an openly hostile manner or trying to damage your child’s relationship with their father.

In some cases, the judge might appoint a special advocate to investigate the parenting behavior of both parents and the relationship that the parents have with their child. The advocate can speak to other sources of information, including teachers, coaches, school guidance counselors and healthcare providers, to compile a complete picture of the type of care that the child receives from both parents. Some of the reasons that a parent can be deemed unfit by the court to have custody of their child include a history of abuse, the inability to provide for the child financially, detachment from their child, neglect of their child and a criminal history. If none of these factors apply to you, then you likely have a much better chance of retaining custody of your child, even if that does not mean having full custody.

As long as the judge does not find that one of the parents is wholly unfit to have custody of their child, there are a variety of arrangements that the court can put in place so that the child maintains a relationship with both of his or her parents. These formal custody arrangements can be modified from time to time at the discretion of the court or the insistence of the parties, especially if there is a drastic change in events or if the child’s relationship with one of the child’s parents.

Be very cautious about modifying any custody arrangements on your own or even with the consent of the child’s father if there is a court order already in place. Depending on the laws of your jurisdiction, you and your spouse may not have the option of modifying the custody arrangement without prior consent from the court. Do not fall into the trap of engaging in a verbal agreement with the child’s father that does not comport with the custody agreement in place. This could be grounds for your future ex-spouse to demonstrate to the judge that you have willingly disobeyed a court order, which will not play well in front of the judge who ultimately has the power to decide your custody issues. It is always best to follow the letter of a court order and seek redress from the court if you need to make a modification to the agreement.

Although you may be intimidated by your child’s father and want to wrap up the divorce process as quickly as possible, you should pause before accepting any agreement with your child’s father. It is best to consult with an experienced divorce and child custody attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure that you are operating with full information about the potential consequences of your decision. You should not sign any agreements with your child’s father without speaking to your attorney first and making sure that you are not doing something that will have a permanent effect on your rights to parent your child. It is much harder to undo these types of agreements after they have been signed and can result in a much more expensive and time-consuming legal battle.

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