Attempting to co-parent with an unstable ex is always tricky and often a nightmare. The thought of a child being harmed or exposed to inappropriate situations while caring for an erratic ex is horrifying. Unstable parents come in all shapes and sizes. The most common types are those who have substance abuse problems or mental disorders. Understandably, parents who share custody with unstable people often feel helpless in their efforts to protect their children.

Fortunately, the primary concern of every family law judge is the health, safety, and welfare of children. Specific circumstances that catch the attention of a family law judge include incidents of a parent engaging in domestic violence in the presence of a child, abusing drugs or alcohol during visitations, neglecting the child’s basic needs, failing to supervise the child, and inflicting excessive corporal punishment on the child.

There is a variety of orders family court judges regularly issue to protect children. For example, the court often orders all visits with an ex to be professionally monitored or order random drug and alcohol testing as a condition to the unstable parent exercising visitation. The court can also limit the amount of time the erratic ex has with the children. For example, in some cases, the court will allow the unstable ex to have only daytime visitation.

Obtaining relief from the family court should be done with great care. Filing motions can backfire on those who have not prepared adequately for the hearing. The reason for this is simple. An unstable ex may put on a false persona while in court and trick the judge into believing his or her plethora of lies. A misguided judge may expand the ex’s time with the children if a case is not adequately handled, causing additional risks to their safety.

Although there are no guaranteed methods to ensure judges will see the truth and issue appropriate orders, there are steps to help the judge see through the smoke and mirrors.

One of the most effective things custodial parents can do to get a judge to understand the truth is maintaining a journal documenting the ex’s behavior. Judges need to see the big picture when deciding child custody and visitation issues. Testifying about a single incident is usually not enough. By keeping track of all the mishaps and other inappropriate situations caused by an unstable ex, a complete and accurate picture of the problem becomes evident. Keeping a journal is also an effective method for refreshing the custodial parent’s memory of important events and incidents. Finally, journals are good for refuting an ex’s testimony concerning essential details, such as how and when they exercised visitation.

If possible, the judge should also be presented with evidence of an unstable ex’s past troubles with the law and other relationships. This can be accomplished by offering into evidence certified court records, such as the ex’s prior criminal convictions and prior or existing restraining orders.

Obtaining copies of police reports related to incidents where an ex was accused of committing domestic violence against other people can damage their credibility. Likewise, getting a written declaration of an ex’s former spouse or intimate partner may be used to demonstrate the ex has a penchant for engaging in such behavior. With a little luck, the ex’s former spouse or partner may even agree to be interviewed and testify in court.

In many cases, hiring a private investigator to conduct surveillance on an unstable ex is an effective way to prove he or she has not stopped their harmful behavior. For example, in the case of an alcoholic ex who claims to have quit drinking, obtaining photographic evidence of him or her in a bar chugging down drinks will usually put an end to his or her charade.

There are situations when waiting to go to court is not the answer because of an imminent threat to a child’s safety. In these types of cases, custodial parents should never hesitate to call the police. For example, where a child calls or sends messages to the custodial parent about being caught up in the middle of a domestic violence incident, it would be appropriate and expected of the custodial parent to call the police and request a welfare check on the child. If the police determine the child was at risk of imminent harm, the custodial parent should consider filing an ex parte motion, seeking immediate relief from the family court. At an ex parte hearing, the court can issue temporary orders (like a restraining order or temporary custody) pending a formal hearing.

It is essential to understand that all parents with primary custody have an affirmative duty to protect their children. Where an unstable ex is engaging in unsafe or neglectful types of behavior, obtaining the court’s intervention is absolutely required. However, before filing a motion, gathering the proper evidence is essential to getting the court’s protection. After all, children in need of protection deserve a hearing where the truth is not only told but understood by the judge.