Sometimes the best laid plans go astray and you find yourself facing a child custody battle that you never expected to go through. When things are in disarray, it’s more important than ever to be organized and prepared for the worst. Before you go any farther in fighting for the right arrangement for your child, make sure all your documents, plans, and intentions are in order.
To the court, the best interest of the child is the most important thing. They consider who can best provide for the child or children in question physically, emotionally, and in other ways. Showing evidence from your life and interactions with your child that prove you can provide a stable, supportive, and loving home should be the aim of your case.
If the other parent has factors that would make them a danger to the child, it’s also important to demonstrate that with evidence in court. Serious problems like drug use or abuse are a red flag that will diminish the other parent’s chances of success in any custody hearing. If you have evidence of anything criminal, it must be brought before the court because that’s in the best interests of your child.
Know what outcome you want before you start to negotiate a custody settlement or enter a courtroom. Knowing that you want to share custody may push you to a settlement, while wanting full custody may require more legal finessing. A solid decision on what kind of custody you want can guide your moves from day one.
Even if your relationship with your co-parent is amenable, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional before embarking on anything as important as child custody. An experienced lawyer will know about the custody laws in your state, have a deeper understanding of what the court wants, and provide guidance on how to achieve your desired outcome.
There are a few kinds of evidence that matter in a custody battle. The two most important are documents and witnesses.
Your documents are things like your income sources, copies of any relevant text messages or emails, phone records, current childcare expenses, and other expenses. You may want to keep a visitation log, contact log, or other documentation that shows when the other parent interacted with your child. Because documents hold so much weight, try to communicate with the other parent via text or email so that you have a record of what’s said. Keep in mind that your words are also considered, so be polite and appropriate in every communication.
Compile a binder with all your documents organized, labeled, and easy to search through. It will come in handy when meeting with lawyers or appearing before a judge. If there are documents you need and can’t access, talk to your lawyer about requesting copies of those documents during the discovery process.
Witnesses are people who’ve spent time with you, the child, or the other parent. People like childcare providers, teachers, or doctors are great witnesses if they have relevant testimony to give. Discuss with your lawyer who is the best witness for your case. Friends and family are inherently biased, but they may still be called on to testify, depending on the case.
“The court will consider things like drug use, any history of physical or sexual abuse, how often each parent is in contact with the child, and how safe the child is with each parent” according to Hossein Berenji, a custody lawyer in Los Angeles, CA. “Any witnesses or documentation that can prove these things one way or another should be obtained and used while deciding custody arrangements”
Showing the type of relationship you have with your child can help demonstrate that you’re the best parent to gain custody. For example, you might show that you’ve attended many parent-teacher conferences, photographical evidence of projects you’ve done together, activities you take them to, or other ways you’re instrumental to their life.
You may also want to demonstrate how that relationship is reflected in your child’s school records, extracurricular activities, and interests. Showing a strong foundation and that your child is growing into a functional adult can help illustrate your parenting abilities. Since the aim of any custody proceeding is to place the child where they’ll be safe and happy, show that you can facilitate that through your relationship with them.
It’s said that you can’t undo a bad first impression, and that’s something to keep in mind when you step into a courtroom. Make sure you’re well-groomed before any interactions with anyone from the court system. Speak rationally and listen to what each person says to you. Try not to interrupt or talk over people. It can be difficult to keep your composure in high-pressure situations like at a custody hearing, but doing so will help show the kind of person you are.
At the end of the day, the court is judging all your evidence and trying to determine who best meets the better parent standard. They want to place the child with the person who will best take care of them. Proving that you’re a strong, capable parent will go a long way toward helping you get the custody arrangement you desire.