One of my insights in the second family law article I ever had published was“[a]lways recognize (and remind your client) that a custody case is one of those rare lawsuits when it is legitimate to change the facts.” What I meant by that was in custody cases, a parent can, during the litigation process, alter behaviors that are detrimental to the child or hinder his or her ability to parent the child.
One of my tasks as a “counselor at law” is to guide custody clients on appropriate parenting behavior. As South Carolina Rule of Professional Conduct 2.1, regarding the attorney’s role as “Advisor” notes, “[i]n rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client’s situation.” Without appearing judgmental, it is often helpful for custody clients to be informed of ways in which their actions or parenting choices may be harmful to their children.
When a custody case is highly contested and the parent highly motivated, such advice can be an impetus to positive change. I’ve had more than one parent drink less (or abstain from alcohol altogether), spend more time with their children, or develop a more appropriate discipline style because they understood that failing to do that would hinder achieving their goals in family court. However, when clients cannot be motivated–often because they don’t perceive custody as contested or because they are unwilling to invest much effort in achieving their goals–these dysfunctions can fester.
That’s sad. More parenting studies than I have time to read note that children model much of their behavior from their parents’ behavior. What happens in their household growing up is what they perceive to be “normal” and is often how their own they arrange their own lives as adults. I and many of my friends spent our late teens and 20’s living lives quite different than our parents but, when we married and had children of our own, our lifestyles and choices tended to mirror that of our parents. I assume the same will be true of our children when they raise our grandchildren.
As the parent of a teenage who emancipates quite soon, I am realizing that we are raising our grandchildren’s parents. If we want those grandchildren raised well, we’d best model good parenting to our children.