Custody Preparation for Moms

A support site provided by those that have been through the process.



Mental Preparation: Maintaining Your Physical & Mental Health


Custody litigation is extremely stressful, and many women experience depression and anxiety symptoms. This is very normal, but can deteriorate your health and harm your case. Below are suggested strategies for dealing with stress and maintaining your health:

Make your health your first priority - it helps immensely with staying strong to deal with the constant and extremely high stress. You have to make a conscious decision not to allow your opposition to mentally defeat you, and this is part of it.

Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance that is fed by a cycle of poor health maintenance -
Worry leads to not eating, which weakens you. Worry leads to not sleeping, which weakens you. So you don't eat, you don't sleep, you punish yourself and your body, you spiral down, you have no energy left for anything or anyone. Don't go there.

Force yourself to eat something/anything--whatever it takes that day. No energy to cook?--Fine.--Eat carrot sticks, string cheese, crackers, milk shakes, smoothies--whatever is easy and you can gag down. Milk shakes and smoothies are workable suggestions because they taste good, have some nutritional value, and go down easy. Take vitamins, especially B-6 for stress.

Try every naturally soothing behavior you can to help you sleep--warm baths before bed, milk, turkey or cheese before bed, read a calming book, eliminate bill-paying, legal documents, any stressors from your bedroom; some people swear by over-the-counter Benadryl--supposedly helps you sleep without leaving you groggy, and is supposedly non-addictive. Always check with your doctor in regard to nutritional supplements and medications. If lack of sleep is becoming incapacitating and the above suggestions are not doing the trick, seek therapeutic or medical intervention.

Try to get in some exercise--even just a walk around the block can reduce your stress levels immensely. Sweaty, aerobic exercise will go further to reduce stress, but don't beat yourself up if you just can't muster the strength to do it right now. Do what you can.

Eliminate negative energy from your life if you can--I'm talking people. You don't have to necessarily sever the ties completely, but loosen them. If you have nay-saying/negative friends and family, quietly be "busy" when they call, want to come over. Be cautious about admissions of PTSD, despondency, depression, suicidal thoughts--poorly trained court personnel, your ex's allies, well-meaning friends and family can use this to harm your case. If you are already beyond natural methods of warding off depression and anxiety problems, please seek therapeutic or medical interventions. If you are having serious suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate professional attention.  You have to be healthy to help yourself and your children.

Find a trusted friend or family member that you can vent to - Again, be very cautious about your choices. Even therapists and doctors can be subpoenaed, so this is risky territory.  If you can not find one that you feel safe and comfortable talking about your trauma, try to find one that can be a support for you in maintaining healthy lifestyle habits.

Counseling/advocacy--That leads us into the subject of getting counseling.  A good therapist with experience in domestic violence and child abuse can be a tremendous help and support, especially if they are willing to testify for you in court.  A bad one can sink you..  Remember that in general, your therapy records can be accessed in custody litigation.  You must assess your own risks and benefits in this area.  There really is no such thing as confidentiality during custody litigation.  

If you choose to or are court-ordered to obtain therapy, interview well and ask for references and credentials before using them.  Realize that very few mental health professionals get any substantive training in domestic violence, child abuse/child sexual abuse.  You might also consider having your attorney interview them.  I have known of therapists that turn from trusted advocates and supports into nervous, back-pedalers when  realizing how long and nasty custody litigation was becoming and that they would be called upon to testify.  I have known of children's therapists initially identify that the children had been abused by their father, yet refuse to report it to child protective services or become enamored with the father's charm.  In one case we are aware of the therapist eventually confessed that she was a fan of Richard Gardner's work and thought joint physical custody was the only way to go for kids, regardless of abuse issues.  She thought she could "fix" the family.  She placed the child in reintegration "therapy" with her abuser and eventually the two of them pressured her to recant.  A co-parenting therapist we know of decided to go get more training because she admitted she did not know how to run such sessions.  When she came back from the training, it was discovered she had learned how to conduct Richard Gardner's Threat Therapy and planned on using those techniques on the family.  The good news is, the mother eventually found a wonderful mental health professional who had excellent credentials in domestic violence and trauma who was a willing expert witness.  Use extreme caution when using court-appointed therapists.

Keep busy--See "Getting Healthy, Strong & Independent" below. Being a shut in only increases feelings of isolation, despair, loneliness. Force yourself to get out the door.

Positive self-talk--Practice sending positive messages to yourself.  Negative self-talk is a destructive habit and part of an essential defense mechanism that we often develop to protect ourselves. Women who have been abused have experienced long term negativity and often come to believe the slander intrinsically, whether they believe it intellectually or not.  Empowering "I"-statements like, "I refuse to allow him to ruin any more aspects of my life" can help you find your inner strength again when you're feeling low.  "I can't do this" is really just a way of saying "I don't want to deal with this experience." We are all strongly influenced by our feelings, often determining how and what action we ultimately take. If the feeling is uncomfortable, negative self-talk results; then we often decide not to take any action at all.  In order to become successful at making healthy choices, you must avoid negative self-talk and start practicing positive thinking.

It is very important to practice positive thinking and to remind yourself that you're a worthwhile person whatever you do. Try to consistently acknowledge that you are making positive changes to improve your life. You should be proud of yourself. Visualize yourself as safe, capable, happy, and confident. These positive feelings will help the process of change. Remember, there are bound to be times when you're feeling frightened, angry, frustrated or depressed. Positive thinkers know that these feelings are valid, and they don't try to ignore them. Positive thinkers acknowledge and try to understand them, but they don't blame themselves for the conditions that lead to these feelings. 

We must stress:  If none of the above methods of self-care are working for you, please seek professional attention from a reputable mental health professional or doctor.  Your health and safety is of utmost important.  


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