Couples sometimes neglect opportunities to amicably resolve disputes when involved in the emotion and stress of separation and divorce. This is especially true in matters of parenting and child custody. If the two parties are willing to work together and avoid the courtroom, mediation can be a more favorable option, but in many cases, both parties feel strongly that they are the more suitable parent. In such cases, parties rely on an impartial judge to decide the case based on the facts. Before taking your child custody case before a judge, know what factors help you build your case, while avoiding pitfalls.
Building Your Case
The only guarantee in a custody battle is that no one truly wins. During trial, the opposing party will attempt to pinpoint aspects in which you may have seemingly failed as a parent, even when you believe that you have done the best job possible. When you have made poor choices in some areas, your hope is to convince the judge that those choices do not prevent you from being viewed as the best caretaker for the child(ren). The following steps can help as you prepare your case for custody:
1) Know your role
Simply wearing the title of “mother”, “father”, or “grandparent” will not hold weight in the courtroom. Be able to prove that you are the better parent. Aside from a title, you will be expected to define your role in the child’s life. Consideration will be given to the amount of “waking time” you spend with your child on a daily basis, so be prepared to discuss what you do on any given day or weekend with the child(ren). Providing an account of meaningful experiences that you have given your child(ren) will only help your cause.
2) Keep good records
Possessing a strong feeling of love and responsibility for your child is not enough. When preparing for a custody trial, make an effort to document what you do for your child(ren). Be prepared to give an account as to how much financial, spiritual, educational, emotional, and physical support you provide. It may be wise to keep a journal noting instances that you think your attorney or the judge may find helpful. Judges are more interested in what you do, as opposed to hearing an account of what the other party does not do.
3) Do your homework – literally.
If your case involves school aged children, know that questions may arise related to school performance and attendance. Being able to demonstrate a history or pattern of positive involvement in your child’s education is a plus. Good indicators include Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) involvement, attendance at parent-teacher conferences, and a record of communication with the school related to your child.
After a brief overview of ways to build your case, the following list represents situations to avoid if possible:
1) Do not assume
Never assume that the judge will favor you over the opposing party due to gender, financial stability, or any other surface related factor. Custody is simply about the question of which party provides the child(ren) with the likelihood of growing up in the best environment. Custody is a matter of character.
2) Playing the blame game
Many have heard the saying, “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer.” In custody matters it is important that you not seem overly critical or fault finding toward the opposing party. Both parents have a stake in the outcome of the case. If it appears that you are unwilling to work with the other party or consider his/her needs, the judge may view this negatively. Besides, if the case is not decided in your favor, the other party may be more willing to accommodate your needs if they feel less attacked during the custody process. Remember, it is more about what you do as a parent, and less about what the other parent does not do.
3) People in your circle
Not everyone who has access to you needs to have access to your child(ren). Far too often, parents are judged by the company they keep. Involvement in numerous or unstable friendships and relationships can negatively impact the way a judge views your ability to provide a safe and stable environment conducive for raising children.
4) Habits that die hard
In a custody case, the past will return to haunt you. It is not okay to be dependent upon or casually accustomed to drugs and alcohol. Nothing speaks more toward losing a custody case than drug, sexual, and/or physical abuse. Again, these issues speak to the character of the individual, and judges frown heavily upon such negative habits.