Prioritizing child well-being in family court and co-parenting decisions

By: Michelle D. Chan, founder and director of California Families Rise

Contentious co-parenting relationships and custody disputes can often be emotionally charged and challenging, particularly when one parent is accused of acting in a harmful or detrimental manner towards the other. Ensuring that the best interests and needs of the children are at the forefront of these situations demands careful consideration, empathy, and a commitment to fostering a safe and nurturing environment. This blog post delves into the complex realm of contentious co-parenting relationships and custody disputes, exploring the importance of putting children’s needs first, even if a parent’s actions may have been detrimental to the other parent, ultimately emphasizing the significance of a child’s well-being and the vital role of responsible co-parenting.

I hate my ex, my son’s father, the man who half my son’s DNA comes from. I hate my ex, but I love my son. I love my son ferociously, and so I refuse to allow that love to be trumped by hate. And so several years ago, I put down the sword and put an end to the vicious cycle of our contentious, never-ending family court case. My son now benefits tremendously from having his father as an integral part of his life and it helps shape his identity and self-worth.

I wasn’t allowed to have a relationship with my own father growing up. And it significantly contributed to feeling lost all throughout my teens and young adulthood. I felt unloved, and no matter how many times my father told me he loved me or how hard he tried to make the time we spent together special- after a while I stopped believing him. You see, I only saw my father about a half-dozen times growing up. Trust is built over time. My father was never given enough time with me for that trust to be built. And so when my father said, “I love you”- what I heard in my head was I haven’t been there for you all these years.

My son deserves better than to grow up feeling unloved by his father, as I did. My son is with his father 50% of the time, and without doubt, his life is much better, healthier, and richer because of this. His father takes him fishing, watches sports and MMA with him, plays soccer and baseball with him. My son’s father provides guidance to my son on how to dress, how to navigate coming-of-age issues like puberty, a budding interest in girls, and how to make friends with other boys. These are things that my son would never have experienced, had his father not been in his life.

Jason D. finds himself entangled in a highly contentious relationship with the mother of his child. She has made accusations against him, which Jason vehemently denies. Their case exemplifies a common “he-said-she-said” scenario within family law. It is concerning to note that family court judges have discretionary power to separate children and parents indefinitely, even without substantial evidence. Complicating matters further, Jason has been subjected to a lifetime restraining order, substantial child support obligations, and day care fees imposed by the judge. It is important to highlight that some unethical family law attorneys exploit restraining orders as a means to gain an advantage in custody proceedings. The burden of proof required for restraining orders is often low, leaving little recourse once an order is issued and severely limiting the restrained parent’s options.

“My one dream in life,” said Jason, “after having gone 50 months of parental alienation and no contact, would be the privilege of being able to call my son whenever I want to say, ‘Dear Son, I love you forever…’, to see him, to hold him, to be able to be substantively there for him.”

Irrespective of the details surrounding Jason’s relationship with the mother of his child, it is undeniable that the child would greatly benefit from having a meaningful presence of his father in his life. There is no doubt about Jason’s capability to parent his son safely and effectively. However, we must ask ourselves: why are decisions regularly made in family court that have lifelong consequences for children, without prioritizing the child’s best interest as the fundamental basis for these determinations?

In conclusion, navigating contentious co-parenting relationships and custody disputes requires a delicate balance between acknowledging alleged parental wrongdoings and recognizing their potential as caregivers for the child. The paramount consideration must always be the best interests and needs of the children involved. This essay has delved into the complex realm of these relationships and disputes, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing children’s well-being and fostering a safe and nurturing environment. By putting aside personal animosity and focusing on responsible co-parenting, children can benefit tremendously from having both parents actively involved in their lives. It is crucial that family court decisions reflect the fundamental principle of acting in the best interest of the child, ensuring they grow up feeling loved, supported, and equipped for a healthy and fulfilling future.


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