Custody Battles: Heidi and Will

Should They Move?
Dr. Phil has advice for how to keep children out of the middle of custody battles.Recently divorced, Heidi wants to take her three children to Alaska to be with her soon-to-be husband and his family.
"I don't feel at all guilty taking the children to Alaska. I feel blessed that we have such a wonderful place to go with my new husband," she says.

Her ex-husband, Will, thinks she has another motive. "Heidi taking the children to Alaska disgusts me. She's using the

children and taking their father away from them to get back at me," says Will who had an affair while married to Heidi, and now plans on marrying the woman he had the affair with. He objects to the move because the children will only see him a few times a year, and he says that the living conditions in Alaska are bad. "I just don't understand why she has a right to take my children 3,000 miles away. I'm a good dad," Will tearfully says. "When I think of not seeing my children, it kills me."

Both accuse the other of saying and doing bad things, and they want Dr. Phil's help for them and their children to make it through this difficult time.

Dr. Phil asks Heidi why she wants to move to Alaska.

"I want to move to Alaska because that's where my fiancé lives. We just got back from a wonderful visit there for five weeks where they got used to the town that I want to take them to, and I can be a stay-at-home-mom," Heidi tells Dr. Phil.

"Does it concern you that you're taking the children essentially
out of their father's life?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I think we have a good plan for visitation," Heidi says, explaining that the kids will visit their father five times a year, and that there will be more stability for them in Alaska.

"I find the conduct on both of your parts very disturbing," he tells them. "These children are 7, 5 and 3 and they don't have the ability to tell you what they think."

Dr. Phil also warns them that if they talk bad about the other parent in front of the children, they will cause irreparable damage. "If you behave in such a way as to alienate their father from them, them from their father ... they will resent you for it. The day will come when they will say, 'You ran your own agenda and it cost us our father.' ... You may feel like you might win at the time, but in the long term, I promise you, they will resent you," he sternly says to Heidi and then says the same thing to Will. Both nod in agreement.Dr. Phil hears both sides' stories: accusations of changing locks, calling names, reading journals, and sleeping in the room with kids. "What I care is that both of you take an honest look at what you're doing to impact these children," Dr. Phil tells Heidi and Will.
The number one thing children need is a sense of acceptance. "Children tend to personalize things," Dr. Phil tells them. They tend to blame themselves for what is going on between their
parents, especially when they hear their parents fight, they think it's their fault. "They need to know that they are important, that they are a priority," he says. "They need to know that their world is predictable and that it's not going to change on them."
They also need freedom from guilt. They will blame themselves for the divorce. "They will see you cry and blame themselves for that," he explains.
"They need structure more than any other time in their lives. This is when things seem to be falling apart for them," he continues.
Will and Heidi need to show strength and stability, and they need to allow their kids to be kids. "They should not be dealing with adult issues. They know too much about what's going on here," Dr. Phil cautions."The court can give you the right to move the kids, but they cannot take away the responsibility for putting them first," Dr.
Phil tells Heidi. "No matter what they do, the court can't be a parent. That's up to you guys. It's up to you guys to say that you're going to put the children first. You have to be fiduciaries where you put their interest above your own."

Dr. Phil questions Heidi's comment that it is in the children's best interest to move to Alaska. He points out that it is 149 miles from the nearest hospital, the average temperature in January is minus 11, and the kids will be 3,000 miles away from their dad. "How is that in their best interest?"

Heidi defends herself saying that she has two uncles there and David, her fiancé, and his two daughters are there, while she has no family in California.

Dr. Phil informs Heidi that the divorce rate in America is 50 percent, and for subsequent marriages it is 63 percent. David has been married three times and this will be his fourth marriage. He reminds Heidi that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. "Statistically and based on history, you would have to predict that this may not be a long-term union," he says.

Will expresses his feelings about the move. "My heart's going to be torn out. I have done nothing and my kids are going to be taken away from me," he tells Dr. Phil.

Mentioning Will's affair, Dr. Phil asks Heidi, "Is this anger and bitterness on your part to punish him by taking these children away as opposed to it being in the children's best interest?"

"It's absolutely not vindictive. I believe it's in the children's best interest," she says looking toward Will.

Dr. Phil gives his opinion. "If I was the judge, I would order both of you into post-marital counseling. I would order both of you into a situation where you had to create a parenting plan, a plan where you can resolve your differences, finish your emotional business, so you could see clearly what is in the best interest of these children," Dr. Phil says sternly and the audience applauds.

He suggests they seek professional help that he will provide, in order to help them create a new relationship. "I would prefer you to delay your court date, delay your move, work this out and see if you can come up with a plan that both of you can be excited about," Dr. Phil tells them and they both agree to participate.