In the last installment of this series, I will address the issue of child safety. In one of my recent custody trials, the father had allowed a child under the age of 3 to ride a four wheeler and a dirt bike. The mother argued that this behavior was very dangerous for the child and that the child was far too young to ride these types of vehicles. She further argued that allowing the child to ride these vehicles at such an early age demonstrated poor judgment and poor parenting on the father’s part.
The father countered by arguing that the child had only ridden these vehicles a few times each; that the child had always worn full safety gear; that the child had always been closely supervised while riding; that the father had held a kill switch while the child was riding; that the child only rode the vehicles in an enclosed yard; and that the child had never been hurt, or in danger of being hurt while riding the vehicles.
The judge decided that the child was too young for four wheelers and dirt bikes. The judge ordered that the child not be allowed to ride four wheelers or dirt bikes until the age of 10. My feeling was that the judge did think that allowing such a young child to ride those vehicles was poor judgment, and did place the child at risk of injury. While the precautions taken by the father may have helped, the judge seemed to ultimately decide that no precautions were sufficient to eliminate the risk.
The lesson here is twofold: First, that a judge may have a very different view of what is “safe” and “acceptable” for a child than a parent. The father in this case never saw a problem with allowing his child to ride these vehicles. The judge obviously felt differently. Perhaps the judge never rode four wheelers and dirt bikes growing up, whereas these vehicles were a part of everyday life for the father’s family.
The second lesson is broader: Allowing a judge to literally sit in judgment over you and your parenting of your child is risky. A judge may have been raised in a totally different environment than you and your child. What seems perfectly natural to you may seem totally abnormal to a judge. What seems perfectly safe to you may seem highly dangerous to a judge. Taking your custody case to court opens both parents up to scrutiny by someone who does not know you, your background, your family, your child or the other parent. For this reason, many attorneys recommend trying to negotiate a custody agreement before taking the first opportunity to go to court.
In the next post, I will provide an introduction to Collaborative Law, a relatively new and highly beneficial process for resolving divorce, property division, custody and financial support issues.
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