Join us for our Facebook Live event as we sit down with Family Law Attorney, Natalie Thorp, to talk through common conduct missteps that parents should actively try to avoid when navigating a custody case. In this interview, Natalie answers the following questions:
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Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.
Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.
Steve Altishin 0:32
Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships at Pacific Legal. And I'm here today with Attorney Natalie Thorpe to talk about conduct you need to avoid, and conduct you should be using, when you're in a custody case. Hey, Natalie, how you doing today?
Natalie Thorp 0:47
Hi, I'm well, Steve, thank you. How are you?
Steve Altishin 0:50
I'm doing well. So before we start in, can you tell us just a little bit about yourself?
Natalie Thorp 0:55
Sure. My name is Natalie Thorp. I am a family law attorney here at Pacific Cascade legal. I've been working in family law for about five years. I really love it. I take my job very seriously. I'm a serious advocate for my clients, my job, and my goal is always to help people resolve their tricky family situations in a way that they can live with.
Steve Altishin 1:19
I love it. That is, I mean, that's the end goal for divorce. So Natalie, before we start to talk about kind of the mistakes you need to avoid, and maybe the way you should act, let's talk a little bit about why it's so necessary to avoid some of these mistakes, especially when you're in a really tough custody fight. I mean, what are some of the potential consequences of, you know, not doing the right thing?
Natalie Thorp 1:49
Well, so in Oregon, there are statutes that the court has to consider when it's deciding who's going to be a custodial parent. So there's the consequences of--and we'll go over what the statute says-- but the consequences of making big mistakes when you're actually going to get into a custody battle, because what you need to do starts well before you ever get there, but if you think you might ever get there, or once you're in the middle of it, you could lose custody. And what that means is the other parent is going to be the parent making big decisions for your child, the other parent is likely going to be the residential parent, which means they'll have the bulk of the parenting time. That can be a real problem if you have always been your child's primary care taker, or something along those lines.
Steve Altishin 2:44
Obviously, you know, acting in the best interest of the child is what all judges look at, and determining what is the best interest of the child factors into what a judge does. What are some of the things that, you know, before we kind of talk about things you don't do, to talk about things that are ultimately in the best interest of the child?
Natalie Thorp 3:17
Well, so what the courts really looking for is a parent who's continuing to co-parent with the other parent. You know, you make a baby with someone, and at some point you really liked that person, because you made the baby, for the most part, right? So I mean, of course, there's always exceptions to that. But for the most part, that's the way babies come into this world. So when you end up in court, the judge really expects you to continue to co-parent for the good of your child. And if you really struggle with that, even if your other parent's a real jerk, you need to keep trying. Because if you don't, the court is not going to like you very much. And the whole thing is a credibility contest. And it's also about what that child needs, and that child needs both parents.
Steve Altishin 4:03
That's a great thing you just said, because I see this. People who are good people being drawn in to do the wrong thing or make mistakes because they get caught up in the fight, unintentionally. And so this isn't necessarily, and all these things aren't things that people even necessarily do, they just, you know, they get pushed into it sometimes by the other parent.
Natalie Thorp 4:39
For sure. And I think one of the best things, and one of the things I tell all of my clients to do is, A) stay calm. No matter what the other parent does, if they're gaslighting, if they're throwing fuel on the fire, let them. Assume the judge is going to read every single thing you ever put in writing and it makes sure that your responses, even if they're being real jerks, are calm and thought out. You're not reacting, you're responding. And you want to make sure that what you're responding with is something you would be proud to have someone else, like a judge, who is going to make determinations for the rest of your life, that they would read from you. You don't want to have to explain yourself later to a judge, somebody in a black robe who really doesn't know your family at all. So that's, I mean, they need people to really think through what they're doing when they're doing it.
Steve Altishin 5:30
So let's talk about some of the mistakes. And as we go through, also maybe the things that you should be doing. The first thing that kind of comes to my mind, and I think we talked about this, it seems obvious to us, but maybe it isn't in the heat of battle, and it's kind of issues that regard the health and the actual safety of the children or the parties. You know, that kind of physical fighting, kind of confrontational thing. I imagine that's something you want to absolutely make sure you avoid.
Natalie Thorp 6:04
Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. Physical violence in any family, the person, the perpetrator of that violence, is going to have a really hard time in court. Domestic violence is something that courts are taking more and more seriously, as time goes by, which is a good thing. Children should not be exposed to that kind of fighting, they just shouldn't. We know the studies show that it's really detrimental for them, and their development as they grow. It's also really detrimental for their future, because you're teaching them how to treat their significant other every day, and they watch. I know people think they don't, but they do, they watch. They watch all the time, they see it all, they hear it all, and you need to know that. If you don't like their parent anymore, their other parents anymore, okay. Right? Keep it to yourself. It's not something that you should be sharing with your child, it's not something your child should see between the two of you. And if the court finds out that you have allowed your child to be exposed to that, oftentimes, they're going to take away your parenting time. And that has nothing to do with custody, right? That has to do with how--or you're gonna get supervised parenting time, which is even worse, because now you're paying someone to come and sit and watch you spend time with your child. Nobody wants that.
Steve Altishin 7:18
No, nobody wants that. It's not, I guess, just yourself when it comes to that kind of stuff. I mean, you know, what about being careful about the people you bring around or into the kid's life?
Natalie Thorp 7:32
Yeah, if you're making bad choices in the middle of it, either before, during or after a custody battle, right--if you've got issues with the parent, and you're bringing questionable folks into the home with your child or around your child in any way, that's fine for that other parent to go back to court and say, This is not a safe place for my child. So the real takeaway here should be that when you're a parent, whether you're with the other parent or not, you need to be conscious of what you're putting in front of your child. You need to be conscious of what your kid needs. And bottom line here is, and the studies show and bear this out, that a child believes that he's part of both of his parents. And when the other parent takes away from the other parent, and the child hears or sees that the child believes there must be something wrong with them, if there's something wrong with the other parent, there must be something wrong with them, too, because they're half of that parents. The courts know this, and the courts use this to make determinations. These are facts. And the courts are going to look at these and say, have you been doing what's right for your kid or are the people you're bringing around your child in their best interest? If they're not, guess what? You're gonna lose time. And there's gonna be a lot of, you know, rules set up around your parenting time. And honestly, nobody wants to be micromanaged.
Steve Altishin 8:55
Yep, you brought a takeaway and that made me think that I know a lot of parents think that the more time they spend with the kid, the more their chance of getting custody is, which I think maybe is true in the legal sense, but can that lead to things like denying the other parent time with the kids? And does that go down well?
Natalie Thorp 9:23
No, I have seen that. And I'll be honest, there are times when that's appropriate. Okay? But those are pretty extenuating circumstances. Like we were just talking about abuse, right? If there's abuse in the home with you, or abuse front of the child to the other parent, there's some reasons that you would want to reduce parenting time and then the court would say, Oh, I see why you did that. Right. That's reasonable. But they're very few and far between. So trying to take parenting time from the other parent, eight times out of 10 the courts gonna say shame on you. This kid needs both of you, and you have not been behaving in a way that is beneficial to your child. And therefore, I'm going to sanction you. And I'm going to say, you're going to have less parenting time now, or you're not going to be the custodial parent anymore. Or, you know, these are the things that happen when you play these games, and it truly is playing with fire. It's not worth it, these games just never work out for people.
Steve Altishin 10:22
Yeah. And that kind of goes back to the the, you know, the judge wanting to encourage a close relationship with both parents.
Natalie Thorp 10:31
That's a statue. So one of the factors of 107.137 is, will the parent that's going to get custody, that the court wants to give custody to, will that parent facilitate a close relationship with their parent and the child? That is one of the factors the court considers. It's probably one of the more heavily weighted factors. They're not supposed to weigh factors more than one over the other, but they do. What I've seen and what I know to be true, just in my own practice, is that the two factors that really matter the very most are the factor of the promoting closeness between the child and the other parent. And the other one is, who's the primary caregiver, traditionally, of this child? Those are the two big ones, right, who's traditionally been the primary caregiver. And if that's you, great, you're probably going to be the custodial parent. As long as you're not playing games, like we've been talking about here today. That is when you get yourself into real trouble. And it doesn't matter if you've been the primary caregiver if you're playing those games. You can just as easily lose custody as the guy who hasn't been the primary caregiver.
Steve Altishin 11:32
Yep, yep. That's good to know. Because, you know, the first thing is, well, if this is working, then I'll just do more of it. Not in this case.
Natalie Thorp 11:41
Steve Altishin 11:42
Yep. The other parent, obviously, as we talked about, being abusive and those things, but sort of other non-abusive things, like you know, we talked about taking away the kid from the other parent, what about things like, you know, choosing to move far away?
Natalie Thorp 12:09
There's a statute about that, too. And that statute basically says you aren't allowed to move more than 60 miles from the other parent, without notifying the court and the other parent. It says notifying, okay? But the court really wants you to work it out. They don't want you and the kid up and leaving town. I always say if you want to move, you need to get with the other parent, and sit down and talk about why you move, help them understand what's going on, figure out a reasonable parenting plan that they can live with, and get an agreement in place. That's the easy--if you need to move for some real, reasonable reason, you're gonna need to facilitate that with the other parent, otherwise, it's gonna be real difficult. The court doesn't really want you taking your kid away from the other parent for the reasons we've discussed today.
Steve Altishin 12:52
Right. And that's for both parents, I take it? Not just the parent with primary custody?
Natalie Thorp 12:58
Well, if you're not the custodial parent, and you move, your parenting time is gonna get limited immediately. Immediately, you're going to a long distance Parenting Plan, which is, you know, there's lots of them, they vary kind of around the state. But you know, long distance parenting plans are very limited. Because askids get older, even if you have a young child, they're going to someday be in school, and having to travel to see a parent far away, the court doesn't want to see the kid missing school, the court doesn't want it negatively affecting their life. So you know, if you're not putting the kid at the middle of your the decisions that you're making, you can generally think that the court is not going to look highly on that.
Steve Altishin 13:37
That kind of gets to something we talked about: not just doing it wrong, but doing it right. And that's that sort of inclusive co-parenting attitude that you really need to have.
Natalie Thorp 13:48
Absolutely, and that is the biggest advice I give my clients. It's not about attacking the other parent, it's about showing that you are a solid, good parent, that you care about your child, that your child is at the center of your decision making, that you want your child to thrive. And that you want to not limit your child from the other parent, right? All of those things are about letting your child thrive. And so as long as you're doing that, you're going to be okay. It's always better if you end up in court, right? If you can't settle and you end up going to trial, it's always easier for your attorney and for you to just go in and say these are the things I've done to help my child, to be a good parent to try and co-parent. These are the things I've done even if the other parent isn't working with you, because they're gonna explain their side. All you want to do is explain yours and you want to come out looking like a gem. And if you can't, that's a problem.
Steve Altishin 14:45
Yep. That kind of feeds into what you were just talking about this whole, and you see this, where parents will talk really bad badly but the other parent, and they, you know, always say, Well, I'm not trying to turn the child against them. But you know, Judge hears this.
Natalie Thorp 15:11
And it's always bad for the child. Always, regardless of what the judge does, but judges hate it, okay? They hate it. But really, the reason that they hate it is because of the damage it does to the child, like we talked about earlier. You're talking bad about the other parent, that kid knows he's half of that parent. What does that say about the child? You know, you really need to think about how the child internalizes that language. And whether you're saying it on the phone to your friends, within hearing distance of your child, or directly to your child, it's affecting them the same.
Steve Altishin 15:44
So again, I guess just assume it's gonna get back to the judge in a lot of these cases. When you're telling it to your friends and your neighbors, it's like, it's gonna get back to your child too.
Natalie Thorp 15:56
Absolutely, it is, and it hurts them. And if you really want to be the one that's caring for your kid, and you really want to be a part of that child's life, no matter what stage of this--I want to call it a game, although it's really not-- we're talking about people's lives. Whatever, no matter what stage, you are at this process, you've got to really be thinking about your child. The court looks at the best interest, but so should you, because that's what the court is looking at.
Steve Altishin 16:23
Yeah. Those are kind of, I guess I would call those the aggressive kind of things people do. They get mad, they just think-- ah it's not about the kid, it's just about us, we're just resolving-- and of course it's not. But sort of, then, part of that passive aggressive thing is about just not communicating. It seems like that happens a lot, where people just decide not to communicate, and that can't be helpful.
Natalie Thorp 16:52
It's not, and all it does is exacerbate the situation, right? Now you're not communicating at all, and now the other parent's getting angrier, maybe blocked on your phone. So they're sending you text messages that you're not getting. And all you're really doing is upping the ante at that point and showing the court that you cannot co-parent. And that, again, is a negative thing.
Steve Altishin 17:14
I imagine that the judge, and the way you've talked about co-parenting, this is their chance to look forward in the future. As to, you're doing this now, what does this mean 10 years from now, right?
Natalie Thorp 17:33
And, look, a judge gets to meet you for a minute. In the span of your life, it's literally a minute. They don't know you, they don't know your family, people are doing the best they can, right? They sit on the bench and they meet you for, like I said, a minute. And they have to make these determinations about your life. If you don't come off in that minute, as a good person, as a good parent, as somebody who can put your child first, that judge makes a snap decision about you. And that's that. And usually you're stuck with the same judge, right, for the entirety of the case. So even if it's early in the case, and the judge gets a bad feeling about you, that's even worse, honestly. Because now you've got to go back before this judge and try and clean up that mess. And it's just, I wish I could, I can't emphasize enough how important it is not to play these games. If you're in the middle of a divorce with children or in the middle of a custody battle, you just, you just never win. It's just never a winning strategy. Unless you have very justifiable reason for doing it, right? There are times, like I said earlier, that there are justifiable reasons for doing something that's outside of what we're talking about. But like I said earlier, these are very few and far between, it needs to be pretty intense and pretty easy to prove, and pretty detrimental to the child from the other party's perspective, for you to get away with that.
Steve Altishin 19:00
On the flip side a little bit, let's talk about showing the judge how you are a good parent. And some of the things especially, maybe, during a time when there's maybe a temporary order, maybe there's not. It's that kind of time where you guys maybe both have to decide together. What should you be doing during that time? I think the communication, like changing the kid's life around, what are some tips to do that you can give?
Natalie Thorp 19:35
Yeah, my best advice to all of my parents is A) co-parent with the other parent, right? Actively attempt to engage them, and to be friendly with them, and to keep the animosity down and just talk about the needs of the child and how you guys can meet them. That's first. Second, don't try and take your kid anywhere outside of that parents vicinity, the other parent. And third, I think you really need to be-- every decision that you make needs to have your child centered in the middle of it. How does this affect my child? Is this a good idea? Is this person that I'm considering dating, is this person a stand up person? Is this person a drug user? Does this person have a sexual history that is questionable? Does this person present, you know, in a way that the court would would say, Yeah, this is okay? You know, those things matter. I also think it matters who is the one making sure the child has medical care, the child is dressed appropriately, the child is cared for on a daily basis-- teeth brushed, babs given. You know, you can't say your child is at the middle of your processing and your thinking if your child is constantly dressed in draggy, you know, ill fitting clothes that aren't clean. And, you know, I'm not saying they have to be dressed in the most highest fashion, I'm just saying they need to be taken care of on a daily basis. There's a minimum level of care that every parent needs to give. And if they're not able to, or willing to, give that, that's not going to work out for them in the custody battle, right? If the other parent can take pictures of that kid coming back from their parenting time with the other parent, that kid is, you know, disheveled and dirty and hasn't been bathed and hasn't had their teeth brushed for days, you know, all of these things that can happen, you're gonna probably have a hard time.
What about using social media? A lot of what we talked about is kind of face to face. But it seems like you see people in divorces, and with custody issues going, doing some social media posting that just wants to make you pull your hair out.
It goes back to what you put in writing, imagine the judge is going to read, okay? And that includes social media. Do not post about the other parent, do not do it. Do not air your dirty laundry on social media, it is never a good idea, because all of that is admissible. It's a statement from you, the court will look at it as a statement from you. So whatever is contained in that statement, they're going to hold it against you. Do not do it, it is just not the place to do it A), and B) it's not appropriate. Someday your child can go back and scroll through your social media and see it. They're going to be your friend when they get older probably. You know, do you want that on there? Do you want to put stuff online? We all know it doesn't go away, so just don't do it.
Steve Altishin 22:33
Yeah. What if you're on the other side? The other parent is doing some of these things, and like you said, you get the chance to tell your story, and they tell their story. What are some tips for when another parent is denying access? Or is, you know, failing to be a communicator, or yelling, or talking bad? What would you advise your client to do, or a couple of tips to do, when there's the other parent doing those things?
Natalie Thorp 23:09
My advice is you don't have to endure abuse from anyone. If they weren't speaking to you kindly in person, don't speak with them in person, make it all happen in writing, make them put it in writing. Because if they're going to put it in writing, you can bring it to the judge, right? And while I always want to focus on the good in my clients, if the other party is behaving badly, I'm going to point to that, as their attorney and say, Your Honor, here's what this other party is doing. So if they're not speaking nice to you, in person or on the phone, stop having in person phone conversations with them, at least during the custody battle, and make them put everything in writing. It's helpful. And then even in writing, you have a choice of whether you want to react, right, and come back at that and be aggressive and just as negative, or sit there and take it in, let yourself have some time to calm down, and respond with something that is, you know, articulate and well thought out. And you know, the judge is going to look at it, right? Or see it and not respond at all. Like there is no requirement to respond sometimes, and especially if someone's being aggressive with you. There's a reasonable, there's a reasonable way that you can bring that into court and say, Did this deserve a response? Look at the way this is written? No, it didn't. Right. And the courts gonna see that too. These are all people who have been through this a lot.
Steve Altishin 24:32
That's sort of the thing. We talked about being sucked into the argument and writing, you know, I used to tell my kids, Okay, you're gonna really send that email? Just read it again before you send it.
Natalie Thorp 24:47
Sit on it for 24 hours, and then look at it again and say, Is this really okay? Right? You don't have to respond right away. The closer you respond to the date, or the date and time that message was sent to you, the less likely it is that you have really thought out your response. Give it 24 hours.
Steve Altishin 25:10
So, if you're good to go, you know you haven't done any of these things. And you know, you get awarded custody. Everything's good, right? I mean, you don't have to worry anymore. You can do whatever you want.
Natalie Thorp 25:24
This is always modifiable. So custody-- well, parenting time is always modifiable, right? First of all, if you're misbehaving, even after a custody determination has been made, if you're misbehaving and you're doing things that are making it hard for the other parent, or, you know, doing things that aren't in your child's best interest, the other parent can always bring a motion to modify that would reopen the case and have the court relook at it. They don't even need any change of circumstances for parenting time. For custody, it's a little different. There needs to be a major change in circumstances, but if you showed up at the first hearing, the first trial, right, the custody trial or the divorce, and you were this glowing, model parent, and then, you know, a year and a half later, the other party can come in and say, Well, look at all these things that this parent's done since we separated, since the divorce or since the last custody battle. That's a significant change in circumstances. And that's enough to modify custody. So you could lose it then.
Steve Altishin 26:22
Even something like let's say, moving to Florida? We're going to move to Florida. I've got my kids custody, I'm good to go. I can do what I want to move to Florida. I'll take the kid away out of school, all of this, I have the right to do it. But can the whole sort of set of circumstances backfire?
Natalie Thorp 26:52
You sure have the right, but it may not be in the kids best interest, right? And again, keep in mind, that's where we've got to keep our eye on that ball. That's the ball we always have to be looking at, because that's the ball the court looks at. So is it in the child's best interest to move from here to Florida when their other parent is here? I mean, look, like I said earlier, if you can't sit down with that other parent and discuss why you need to move away and get them on board, you're going to struggle, you're gonna have a hard time and you may lose custody over it.
Steve Altishin 27:21
Yeah. So you know, 30 minutes blows away quick. And we are just about done. Do you have any last things you would say to a parent who comes in and says, you know, how should I act?
Natalie Thorp 27:39
More than anything, you married, or you were together with this person, long enough to make a child. Keep in mind that no matter how mad you are, that child didn't ask to be with you. You chose to bring that child into the world. And it's your job to do what's in that child's best interest. As a parent, that's really your only job. And it is in your child's best interest, like I said, eight times out of 10, to have full, open connection with both parents. Make sure that you do that. Make sure that you're good to your child and your other parent, no matter how mad you are. The anger will pass, but what you do when you're angry will not.
Steve Altishin 28:26
Yeah, yeah. That's a great piece of advice. So thank you so much for today. You're bringing this depth of knowledge that, you know, just very matter of factly can kind of clear up and answer some of these questions, because these are complex legal issues, not just, you know, social parenting issues that kind of get twisted up together.
Natalie Thorp 28:54
Yeah, in family court, I will tell you, it can be difficult, right? It can be. It's very... you've got to step lightly. And, you know, I often say, because of the way that family court is set up, it's kind of like doing surgery with a sledge hammer. They have only a certain number of tools in their toolbox, and they use those tools to the best of their advantage, the courts and the lawyers that are working in that system. But you have to set them up for success with your behavior.
Steve Altishin 29:23
Yeah. Oh, that is a nugget. That is a nugget. Thank you, Natalie, so much for being here today.
Natalie Thorp 29:31
It was my pleasure.
Steve Altishin 29:33
Oh, this was great. And everyone else, thank you for joining us. If anyone has any further questions on today's topic, you can post it here. We can get you connected with Natalie. And until next time, stay safe. Stay happy. Everybody be well.
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