How can I support my partner during a custody case?

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Photo by Valerie Everett, used under Creative Commons license.
What can I do to support my partner while he is in the middle of a custody case for his child? I am not a legal stepmother to this child, though I am a part of his every day life and love him with every bit of my heart. I am not getting involved in the legal aspect of things, as it is not my place, but I am completely at a loss as to what I can do to support my partner and this beautiful child and our little family unit we’ve created.

Do any of you have any insight or advice for ways to I can support our family without getting too entangled in the legalities of the situation? — Anonymous

Comments on How can I support my partner during a custody case?

  1. The best way to support him is to be there and listen. If he’s a strong silent type give him lots of affection. To support the child do the same. Children from broken homes tend to be more insecure and need to know that no matter what its not their fault and they are loved and secure.

  2. I agree with the comment above, listen and offer comfort. Be careful of speaking ill of his ex (even if your partner is) both to your partner and of course the child. Hopefully as time goes on they can repair the co-parenting part of their relationship. My ex and I split, and the partners we have now have been supportive and non judgemental to the other parent. This has made the coming back together part once the dust settled, an option and very easy.

  3. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, coffee mug, tote bag, certificate suitable for framing…and..well, you get the idea.

    First and foremost, be present and engaged and outwardly supportive. Secondly be removed from the histrionics and craziness that will come about. Be the calm one, the sane one, the consistent one.

    My partner wound up with sole custody of his kids, and his ex wound up with supervised visitation only.

    Good luck to you all! Just be calm, sane, supportive and consistent. Don’t let the assholes get you down!

  4. Ohhh goodness yes. I’ve been here, it was messy. So I’ll tell you what I learned, but you may not need to use much of it depending on how things go for you 🙂

    One, be his personal reaffirmer. Having a former partner contest your abilities as a parent in court is draining and dredges up old insecurities. Your partner may need your help to remember that he’s amazing and loved, so be ready with kind words and real examples of why he’s a good man and a good parent.

    Two, be ready to forgive and/or call out bad behavior. He may say things to you that are borne of the stress of the situation. You can be a soft place to land without being a pushover. He will need that structure of, “Dude, you’re angry but you cannot talk to me that way,” to help keep him grounded.

    Three, try to set up quiet zones for himself or he and his kids. Run interference with the world on his behalf. It depends on what your partner needs or is comfortable with; I used to take my partner’s phone, promise to let him know if anything urgent came up, and ship him to bed for a nap.

    Four, be ready for confused feelings from the kids.

    Five, help him keep records. Sometimes he’d forget or sometimes things would smooth out and he wouldn’t think he needed it. But I kept a datebook with information just in case and it ended up coming in handy. Things like receipts on money spent for childcare, summaries of conversations, verbatim quotes that were inappropriate or questionable, missed or changed visitation appointments, etc. etc. (things that are factual rather than emotional) will help your partner present a complete picture of the situation for the court if need be.

    Ahem. So. Sorry that’s so long, if you want anything more specific (unrelated to legal advice cause obviously, no) I’d love to help more. Being the non-parental partner in this situation is a special kind of mess.

    • All of this, but I especially recommend number 5. In the heat of the moment, it can he difficult to remember to write things down. Even if it’s just a shoebox of receipts and a notebook of dates and reminders of important things, it can be super helpful. But be fair: Try to remember to write down the times when things go great, too.

      Pictures. Pictures, pictures, pictures. My ex had trouble with his custody case because neither of us are a shutter-bug and we spent so much time actually interacting with his daughter, he didn’t have any proof that he did it! A simple scrapbook could have solved a lot of problems.

    • Currently learning these tips through my experience but reading your comment was a much appreciated reminder.
      My husband is on the fence of going to court (he’s been patiently civil) and I’m becoming impatient being “uninvolved”. The ex has been alienating dad, controlling the situation, and all while painting a negative picture of me to their child. I’ve been a good role model, and encourage my step-child to love their mom despite things that are said about me. After 4 years, I reached my boiling point and I’ve become more aggressive with my husband about doing something. I thought I was being patient with him, but the fact that my step-child has been repeating things that moms been saying about me (wrongfully accusing me of things too), I’m defensive and I lost myself and my intentions along the way. I needed this though to remind me of my place in the situation.

  5. I have been through this journey from the point of us having rare visits on holidays to full custody and I am now adopting my stepdaughter. I agree with all the other advice to be a listening ear and someone to lean on. My #1 advice is don’t talk trash about the biological parent anywhere within earshot of the child. Kids are smarter than people give them credit for and know what’s up, but all kids will long for their parents to be perfect and create that in their mind.

    • Oh, yes! And taking it one step further even – don’t talk trash about the other parent, period. At least not to your partner. It can make it hard for your partner to trust you to “play nice” if you must interact with the other parent, OR could make him feel defensive of the other parent, OR OR, can be hard to put in the past if everyone ends up getting along.

  6. I haven’t been in your specific situation, but I know what it’s like to want to help someone who is going through a stressful event.

    Being there to listen is of course good. But daily life stuff often get pushed to the side during stress. Help out with chores or take on a bigger share of them if you live together. Bring over or cook healthy meals for your partner to eat. Even if he isn’t hungry, make sure the option is there. He’ll be more clear headed with real food instead of fast food/junk food.

    When there is down time, take him out to the movies, or if he loves to read, find books for him to read, or if he’s a gamer then encourage him to play a couple games – a mini-vacation from reality to help unwind.

  7. I’ve been the parent going through the custody case over my child with the supportive partner and I appreciated how well he has balanced trying to be there for my son and yet not trying to take over being Daddy. My advice in what I’ve seen him do with the kiddo is not to be afraid to step up and be the one who says no and also be ready with the affection and reassurance that things will be ok. If kiddo is willing to accept it offering them special play time with you can go a long way to helping them feel supported.
    As for the partner, ditto what others have said about being ready with the support and affection and a sounding board as needed.
    My best suggestion is to try not to get into a bash-fest too often. I’m sure your partner will want to rant occasionally about how all of this is making them feel and it’s definitely necessary ( it was for me anyway!) but too often I would find any discussion of custody leading down that path. Sometimes the best thing to do is to listen until they start repeating themselves and then try to find a tactful way to discuss other stuff and help them get their mind off it.

    Good luck and I hope the situation resolves as well as it can on all sides!

  8. Hi there,
    I am going through a very similar situation with my stepdaughter at the moment. I have chosen to step back from all the legal nitty gritty and focus on my relationship with her. This is all very unsettling for her and I want her to know that I am there for her.
    I also try my best to support my partner and do fun things to take his mind off it as it can get him down a lot.

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