Scorched Earth: a Tactic or an Excuse?

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April 4, 2011

Scorched earth tactics are the battle cry of disappointed parents who did not get custody. In Oregon, courts award custody to the parent who best meets the needs of the children. The urban legend, “a vagina entitles the mother to sole custody,” simply isn’t true. Nor is the belief that a penis precludes being the primary parent.

Scorched earth describes the tactic of burning everything that could be useful to the enemy to put the other side at a disadvantage. Parents who lose custody blame the opposing attorney for destroying their families and being the reason that parent does not have primary custody. Attorneys representing parents who can and do put their children first have only to give the bad parent the stage, and ownership parents will make the stewardship parent’s case.

Below are examples of behavior found not worthy of being awarded custody * :

  • explaining to the custody evaluator that she raised her children by thinking of them as dogs
  • informing the evaluator he ranked the children by whom he liked, best to least
  • slapping his child causing a bloody nose, which at first he denied and then admitted, claiming that he was justified
  • giving her child to a neighbor to raise while the other parent was at work
  • continuing to sleep with her child after the custody evaluator indicated that sleeping with the child was not in the child’s best interest
  • advising the custody evaluator that mother’s moving to New York be in the best interest of the children because it would make mother happy

These parents who claimed they lost custody because of scorched earth tactics deny any parental shortcomings, but are quick to criticize the other parent. Loser parents:

  • overstate the other parent’s shortcomings;
  • use trigger words like illegal behavior, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and the old standby physical abuse, without supporting evidence;
  • speak of the children as being better off without the other parent or extended family; and
  • view perceived slights by the other parent and extended family as slights to the children, not just themselves.

These parents are unable to separate their wants, needs and desires from those of the children. During a custody evaluation, parents are assumed to be on their best behavior. If parents cannot behave properly during an evaluation, the court is going to decide custody against them without consideration of the tactics of the other parent’s attorney.

Blaming the other parents or their attorneys is an excuse that keeps the losing parent from doing the work necessary to become the kind of parent their children need. Children are pre-programmed to love both parents and are incredibly forgiving. Children understand what many parents fail to: that parent-child love is inclusive, not exclusive.

* Composites of cases heard in open Court. Names and situations altered to protect the children.