In Bates, the Mother wasn’t doing herself any favors sending emails to the father like the one the court quoted from directly, wherein she wrote “You will never feel so much pain when I’m done with you. . . . I’m going to embarrass [sic] you make the kids hate you,” and another in which she wrote “When this is over you’ll be lucky if you get to talk to the kids on the phone.”
Heated conversations between parents can show the court that the parties cannot make decisions jointly regarding their child(ren), and can thus hurt one’s chances for joint custody. Email and text message exchanges like those in the Bates case can do even more to harm your joint custody chances in a Utah divorce, partly because Utah Courts require less evidence to overcome the presumption of joint custody than the Iowa Courts, and mostly because outright threats to alienate the other parent in the eyes of the child(ren) are destructive and counter-productive by any measure.
The mother in Bates made another huge mistake in taking the children to the doctor and having medicines prescribed for the children without telling the children’s father. She then failed to send the medicine with the children when they visited their father, so the children only received their medication at her home. Like the Iowa Court in this case, Utah Courts are concerned primarily about the welfare of the child(ren) in a divorce action and if a parent demonstrates an unwillingness to work with the other parent on something as essential as healthcare, courts may very well find that joint custody is not workable.
The court was extremely unimpressed when the mother posted on her Facebook account that the children “have a really bad father.” The court specifically noted that “Whether or not [the mother] understood how Facebook works, this post was viewable by [the parties’ child], who was active on Facebook.” In Re the Marriage of Adam Michael Bates and Laura Kay Bates case No. 2-234/11-1293 (App. Ct. Iowa, 2012).
The Bates court showed the mother no sympathy, noting “While we acknowledge [the communications were] sent in a time of high stress, we note that [the father] did not make such threats. Given [the Mother]‘s emotional and physical reactions to stress, we believe her behavior during stressful times is relevant in determining whether she could support [Father]’s relationship with the children at all times. We conclude she would not.” In Re the Marriage of Adam Michael Bates and Laura Kay Bates case No. 2-234/11-1293 (App. Ct. Iowa, 2012).
Just like that, Laura Kay Bates lost her chance at being a true joint custodian of her children. The father was awarded final decision making authority because he demonstrated himself to be a fit parent by demonstrating that he would be respectful and productive in his communications with his ex-wife. If you’re going through a divorce, or thinking about getting a divorce, remember to pay close attention to what you say to your spouse, and especially pay close attention to what you write about your spouse on social media.
This habit of being conscientiously respectful in your communications with and about your ex pays dividends even after the divorce has been finalized. If joint custody can work in your case and your children have the ability to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents, gloating about your remarriage or your ex’s bad luck at work can cost you a lifetime of unpleasantness if you’re lucky. If the court gets involved it could even cost you your status as a joint legal custodian.
Clearly, this advice is not going to be news to 99% of people considering or going through a divorce, but it’s important. We get extremely happy, as lawyers, when our clients nod patronizingly and smile at us as if to say “yes, I clearly know I should mind my p’s and q’s on Facebook and not disparage my ex in front of my children, obviously.” We love it when this is obvious (and for 99% of our clients, we never needed to mention it in the first place, but we always mention it anyway, just to be clear). We always remind our clients because cases like Bates serve as a chilling reminder of what can happen after a few seconds worth of bad decisions.