Winning at custody is one of the most important issues parents confront in divorce. In many cases, both parents want custody and are willing to spend and do whatever it takes to win. Custody is all about what is best for the children - and that involves proving that you are the better fit and best parent - i.e. that the other parent is not as good a parent as you.
My recommended tips for winning at custody are:
- Be the better fit parent through your words and actions each day by personally taking care of all the needs of your children and placing their needs first. Your goal is to prove though your attitudes, beliefs, behavior and actions each day, documentation of facts written down the day of the event or as soon thereafter as possible, witnesses, the children, records, and other proof that you deserve a rating as an excellent parent for the last 24 months (or since the time custody was last determined) and that your opponent deserves a rating as a parent that is far below your rating during this time. Warning: If a parent is seen as an alienator of the children’s affection for the other parent or is attempting to unfairly cast the other parent as “bad”, it could be thought that the parent painting this awful picture, (especially if untrue) is the less adequate parent. Do not fight or argue with your opponent (in person or on the phone) with the children in the same house. Protect the children from conflict.
- If you are not involved in your children's lives, this could be a problem in getting custody from a judge. If you are a working parent who lets your spouse handle all of the details of parenting, you are not prepared to win at custody. You must either change your objectives or change your parenting. If you really want custody, get involved now - in all aspects of your children's lives. Get involved in your children's schooling. Attend their extra curricular events. Take them to the doctor and dentist. Get to know what professionals your children see and be involved with them.
- Make sure that you are not exposing your children to unsafe or unhealthy environments when they are with you. Are you involved in another relationship? Has there been more than one? Be very careful about exposing your children to your companion(s). Many judges, professionals, and other parents object to the children being subjected to other relationships too early in that process. More important, if you really want to win at custody, it should be because you want to spend time with your children parenting them. Spending time with someone else when you have the children is a recipe for losing at custody in court.
- Do you put down your children's other parent when the children are with you - either consciously or subconsciously? If you do, stop. One sure way to lose at custody is to hurt the children's relationship with the other parent. A judge will consider whether a parent promotes or prevents the other parent's access to and relationship with the children when seeking custody.
- Winning at custody requires that you keep a calendar and journal of recorded facts for everything. You need to be able to provide specific details of facts when it comes time to inform your attorney and others of the facts, including date, what happened, who was there and saw and heard the event, where it happened, why it was important, etc. If you do not know when you had the children, what events took place, where they were, you will only hurt your own case. You can keep a detailed record of the facts in your own journal.
- Be on time...Do not cause conflict as a parent who is persistently late in picking up or dropping off children. It irks the judges, it creates arguments with your ex or soon-to-be ex, and it stresses out the children. So, be on time.
- Be flexible. If the other parent wants to switch weekends or weekdays, do it if you can manage your schedule. When the time comes to tell the judge why you should have custody, you can tell the judge that you are the parent who makes sure that the schedule works. In a close case, this issue makes a difference.
- Do not involve your children in the issues that are pending in court or with attorneys. Courts generally are very opposed to the children knowing the details of what are essentially adult issues. Children should be told that both parents love them and want to see them - that's it. The children may see a psychologist and/or an attorney or other professional if the court directs that. The children can talk to those people about your case - you should not be giving them the details and you should not say negative things about the other parent when the children are present in the same house.
- Winning at custody requires considering one other very important factor: Where do the children want to live. It is not a good idea to coach your children on this issue. They will have an opportunity to tell what they want, either the court, their attorney or a psychologist. You can take your children over the age of 11, to see your attorney to meet in private with your attorney. However, it is a good idea to know what they want. If the children want to live with their other parent, it is more difficult to obtain custody, unless you believe that it is unsafe or inappropriate for the children to live with that parent.
- You do have to be willing to show why your children's other parent should not have custody. So, you need to keep track of whether that parent is on time, involved, and flexible with the schedule. If that parent has any issues that affect custody, such as a history of mental health issues, which impacts his or her ability to care for the children, or alcohol or drug addictions, you need to let your attorney and the court know. Other issues that can and do affect custody determinations include the number and frequency of romantic relationships and the exposure of the children to those relationships, the proper supervision of the children, and ensuring that the children attend school, the children make good grades while in your care, and see professionals such as a doctor and dentist when necessary.
- Above all else, hire a very good experienced attorney who often handles case like your case, and be open and honest with your attorney. Listen to your attorney, not some friend or relative who is sure about what you should do because they had a friend or a relative who got a better deal.
- You must also remember that to win anything, even child custody, you must first get your emotions in check. A common mistake people make in their child custody battle (and their divorce for that matter) is to react from emotion rather than respond with reason to the situation. When you emotionally react, you tend to act impulsively. You act against or are in opposition to something. You're playing poor defense. When you carefully respond with reason, you're more measured. You determine a course of action and proceed. You have a plan. You're playing good offense. With emotions running so high in child custody battles, there is a strong tendency to react and follow your emotions. When you do this, you allow your opponent to take control and manipulate the situation to their benefit. It's hard to build a strong case and win child custody when you're so busy emotionally responding to what your ex is doing or consumed with overwhelming emotions.
- A child’s health care needs and good grades in school are very important so be sure to take care of all of these needs as a priority.
- If the children's needs can be served with a reasonable settlement with the assistance of your attorney, do your best to achieve a settlement with a WIN - WIN - WIN result whereby the needs of the minor children and both parents are protected.
CUSTODY AND PARENTING TIME FACTORS
The factors the Court should take into account and consider regarding custody, parenting time, and status as primary residential parent are as follows:
- The parent's ability to instruct, inspire, and encourage the child to prepare for a life of service and to compete successfully in the society which the child faces as an adult;
- The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent, including whether a parent has taken a greater responsibility for performing parenting responsibilities relating to the daily needs of the child;
- The willingness and ability of each of the parents to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, consistent with the bests interests of the child;
- Willful refusal to attend a court-ordered parent education seminar may be considered by the court as evidence of that parent's lack of good faith in the proceedings;
- The disposition of each parent to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessary care;
- The degree to which a parent has been the primary caregiver, defined as the parent which has taken greater responsibility for performing parental responsibilities;
- The love, affection, and emotional ties existing between each parent and the child;
- The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
- The character and physical and emotional fitness of each parent as it relates to his or her ability to parent or as it relates to the welfare of the child;
- The child's interaction and interrelationships with siblings and with significant adults, as well as the child's involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
- The importance of continuity in the child's life and the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment;
- Evidence of physical or emotional abuse to the child, to the other parent, or to any other person;
- The character and behavior of any other person who resides in or frequents the home of a parent and such person's interaction with the child;
- The reasonable preference of the child if it is twelve (12) years of age or older. The court may hear the preference of a younger child upon request. The preference of older children should normally be given greater weight than the preference of younger children;
- Each parent's employment schedule, and the court may make accommodations consistent with those schedules; and
- Any other factors deemed relevant by the court.
No one factor controls, and each factor must be weighed and considered in relation to the others. Note that any of the above factors may be overshadowed if any of the following allegations are proven: Abandonment, substantial refusal to perform parenting responsibilities, physical or sexual abuse of a child or parent, emotional or physical impairment interfering with parenting responsibilities, drug, alcohol, or other substance abuse, abusive use of conflict which endangers the child's psychological development, withholding access to the child from the other parent without good cause, a parent's criminal conviction, or any other factors adverse to a child. Obviously, these important considerations can weigh most heavily in the event they exist and can be proven.
The Mother and Father should behave with each other and each minor child so as to provide a loving, caring, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the minor child or minor children even though the Mother and Father are divorced or not living together. The Mother and Father should not speak badly of each other in the presence of the minor child or minor children, and also the Mother and Father should not speak badly of the members of the family of the other party in the presence of the minor child or minor children. Each parent should encourage each child to continue to love the other parent and be comfortable in both families. Each parent should make reasonable efforts to achieve the following through each parent’s words and actions each day:
- To guide, instruct, inspire, and encourage the parties’ minor child or minor children to prepare for a life of service and to compete successfully in the society which the child or children faces as an adult;
- To enhance and improve the strength, nature, and stability of the minor child's relationship with each parent, and to reasonably perform parenting responsibilities relating to the daily needs of the minor child;
- To facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the minor child or minor children and the other parent, consistent with the bests interests of the child;
- To reasonably avoid conflict around the minor child or minor children in order to assist the minor child's psychological development;
- To reasonably avoid withholding access to the minor child or minor children from the other parent without good cause.
- To reasonably provide the minor child or minor children with love, concern, guidance, medical care, education, reasonable supervision of homework to promote acceptable grades, safety, other supervision as needed, and other necessary care;
- To reasonably provide for the emotional needs and development of the minor child or minor children;
- To maintain good character and emotional fitness as it relates to the ability to provide for the need of the minor child or minor children;
- To encourage good interaction and good interrelationships with the minor child or minor children and siblings and significant adults, as well as the child's involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
- To reasonably provide a stable, satisfactory environment for the minor child or minor children;
- To reasonably protect the minor child or minor children from physical or emotional abuse from any person;
- To take reasonable effort to protect the minor child or minor children from persons with poor character or poor behavior.
- To frequently inform the minor child or minor children that they are loved very much.
Each parent should provide for and protect the best interests of the minor child or minor children by placing the physical and emotional needs of the minor child or minor children first each day, as shown by each parent’s words and actions each day.