Parents involved in a divorce are usually mostly concerned with how to win a court case for child custody. One thing to remember when it comes to disputes concerning child custody is that family courts are primarily after protecting the best interests of the children.
Family courts are legally mandated to ensure they make child custody arrangement decisions that ultimately are beneficial to the children. Therefore, if you are a parent who is seeking child custody, it is essential for you to understand what makes a good parent in the eyes of the law.
If you want the court (and your kids especially) to see you in the best light, and you sincerely want to have custody of your children, below is a list of dos and don’ts that can help you win your case.
Being a Model Parent: 5 Things You Need to Do
Perhaps in your heart, you really do feel that you are in the best position to raise your children by gaining custody of their care.
However, before you can succeed at your goal, you’ll need to show how having custody will benefit your children. To ensure you do right by your children, consider the following things that can favorably impact your chances of winning custody:
1. Be the parent your kids need for you to be
To show your capacity to perform your parental responsibilities, all you need to do is be the parent you ought to be. Now, of course, this is easier said than done, but you need to do what it takes to show the court (your kids and ex, too) the kind of parent you can be.
Whether you currently have visitation rights or only have your children over during weekends, be there and spend as much time with them as you can.
- Be prompt in picking up and dropping off your kids in school or at your ex’s place – whether it’s court-ordered or agreed upon with your ex and or children.
- Follow up on and help your kids with their schoolwork.
- Supervise your kids at home, including doing their chores, bath time, eating their meals, and sleeping on time.
- Spend time doing fun things together, including going to parks and museums and playing your children’s favorite sports.
- Be there for important school events, extracurricular activities, and milestones.
- Engage actively in parent-teacher conferences and check on how your children are doing at school by conferring informally with their teachers once in a while.
- Attend doctor and dental appointment schedules that fall on days when your children are in your care.
- Discuss major decisions about your children with your co-parent. Examples of these include your daughter wanting to get her ears pierced, your son wanting to join baseball camp, or one of your children wanting to join a field trip out of state.
- Set up a space for your kids in your house. This means giving them a bedroom (or rooms) of their own where they have clothes, toys, bedding, toiletries, and other things they need to live with you. You shouldn’t let them lug around their belongings and make them feel like guests in a house that you want to share with them.
The important thing to remember here is to ensure you make all your interactions count. Spend quality time with your kids now so the court knows you are taking your parental responsibilities seriously.
If you currently get to spend only a limited time with your kids (at least until the custody case is settled), it may be tempting to focus on just giving your kids a good time whenever they are with you. Check yourself and don’t let your children run amuck.
It’s true that you want your children to be happy and have fun, but you still need to be the parent and not agree to everything they want. Let them have their fun times with you, like going to a movie or swimming. But be the parent, always. Else, you’re going to end up being unfair and unrealistic – to your kids, your ex, and yourself.
2. Demonstrate your willingness to work with your ex for the sake of your kids
Interacting with your ex might be your least favorite thing to do in the world, but you need to show your willingness to collaborate with them for the sake of your children. You need only be civil and able to discuss and work together on raising your children, even as you’ve gone your separate ways.
Showing your readiness to co-parent is a basic requirement for success in gaining custody of your kids. Being rigid or, at worst, highly uncooperative can work against you.
3. Be respectful of your ex
Your co-parent may be the last person you want to deal with, but showing basic courtesy and respect is important – whether in front of the kids, the judge, your lawyers, etc. Let this be your code of behavior: exercise restraint, even when you feel frustrated and aggravated.
To maintain a harmonious or peaceful relationship with your co-parent, try to apply the following:
- If there are changes in your work schedule, holiday plans, or anything that can affect your childcare arrangements, make sure you discuss these with your ex.
- Exchange contact information in case of emergency.
- When you know there will be other people with you and your children during an important event or even something as simple as a movie date with your kids, let your co-parent know.
- If you plan to spend a weekend out of town with your kids, talk to them about this beforehand, too.
- Share any/all medical information and appointment details with your co-parent. Consider the other parent’s schedule, too, when making doctor’s appointments for your kids.
- Show your children that you support their relationship with your ex. If your kids complain about your co-parent or anything regarding their household, let your child know that you’ll discuss it with your ex.
- Do not be quick to judge your co-parent when your child misbehaves or makes a mistake. If something goes wrong or any of your kids gets in serious trouble, work it out or coordinate with your co-parent and talk to your child together. Pointing fingers at each other won’t help at this point, and proper communication is likely to get better results.
At this stage, both you and your ex might still find it hard to trust each other and you may see one another as enemies. But for the well-being of your children, you need to have a united front – or at the very least, be able to communicate openly about your kids.
4. Keep notes or a journal, as needed
There are situations when couples part ways amicably, but there are also cases when people need to break up because of more serious reasons, such as domestic violence or abuse. Now, if you have this type of background with your ex, then your greatest fear would be the thought of your children being unsafe with their other parent.
In such cases, make a note of what your children say about their life at their other home. You should also keep a record of your communication and interactions with your ex. Keep these detailed, but also avoid conjecture and malice.
You don’t want your notes being used against you in case your co-parent retaliates. If you end up antagonizing your co-parent who might turn out to be innocent of whatever preconceptions you’ve built up in your mind, you could weaken your custody claim.
5. Always strive to make a favorable impression
You may be a good parent at heart, but this is usually not enough during child custody mediation or at court. You also need to look the part. You and your ex are on two opposing sides of the custody battle, and they could resort to saying things about you that are untrue to weaken your chance of getting custody.
Therefore, it will also help if you present yourself with decorum. Be presentable and show the kind of responsible and loving parent that you are who’s deserving of having child custody.
Sabotaging Your Chances: 4 Things You Should Never Do
Winning a child custody case is no small feat. If you want to win your case, then you should avoid doing the following things that can seriously undermine your chances of winning.
1. Discussing child support, visitation, and other matters concerning your children irresponsibly
Whether you’re looking for sympathy or feeling angry and frustrated, never discuss matters that concern your children with your children or any party other than your lawyer.
- Don’t discuss child visitation-related matters with your children, not even if your reason is to make them feel important by planning it around a schedule they want. You and your co-parent need to take charge of visitation planning and work out a schedule that’s fair for everyone.
- Don’t discuss anything about child support with your children. Whether your co-parent is late with their child support payment or has sent a smaller amount than what is required, do not ever feel tempted to talk about it with your kids. Neither should you forbid your kids from seeing their other parent because of those reasons.
- Don’t vent your money troubles or financial pressures on your children. If you can’t afford to give in to certain requests, just say so. If it’s an important purchase, you can try discussing it with your co-parent to see if they can help. Remember, not being able to afford everything your kids want is not a sign of parental failure.
- Don’t discuss the details of your child custody case with your kids. Your kids don’t need to know these things. What’s important is for them to know they are in secure, loving relationships with their parents.
- Don’t be bitter when your co-parent is able to provide some things you can’t afford to give to your children. Just be happy for your kids and remind them to thank their other parent. Getting them the things they want may be good, but giving them love, support, and attention is what really matters.
If you have a new partner and you’ve confided certain matters about your child custody case with them, make sure they know that any discussion concerning your case is off-limits. They and your own parents and siblings should know they are not in a position to discuss any child support- or custody-related matters with your kids.
2. Badmouthing the other parent
Even if your ex hurt you badly or you’re angry and you distrust your co-parent, do not ever badmouth them to your children or fabricate stories to make your co-parent look bad. No matter how difficult, keep these things to yourself and strive to be neutral or reasonable in situations where your kids are upset or express disappointment over their other parent.
Encourage your children to iron out their differences with your co-parent, and never engage in parental alienation. If you are bothered about your kids’ complaints, talk these things over with your co-parent.
Moreover, never use your children to hurt, spy on, or erode the confidence of their other parent. When your kids are with you, use that time to focus on them, not on what your ex-partner has been doing.
3. Taking your parental role for granted
If there ever was a good time to be a model parent – that time is now. If you expect to have custody of your children, you need to demonstrate that you’re capable of performing the role of a parent.
Winning custody is about showing genuine love, support, and care for your children. This means showing up on your scheduled visitation, being on time with pick-ups and drop-offs, fulfilling your promises (within reason), communicating regularly, and prioritizing your kids.
4. Not following court orders, or committing illegal acts
It may seem like a no-brainer but always remember that committing things that go against the law or court orders would make you unfit to be a parent. These include:
- Taking prohibited substances or misusing alcohol
- Violating family court orders or requests
- Engaging in criminal or illegal activities
Doing any of these things is akin to sabotaging all hopes of you ever gaining custody of your children.
Strengthen Your Custody Case
In strengthening your case for child custody, focus on doing the things that you can control without resorting to any misconduct. Keep in mind that whatever applies to you also applies to the other parent. If they commit any of the mistakes mentioned here, they would be on the losing end.
But that’s not your main concern; focus on your kids and yourself.
For your own information and to manage your expectations, it would also help for you to read up on family law matters in your state. Of course, nothing beats legal advice and assistance from a seasoned family lawyer.
If you are about to go through a child custody case or need advice regarding the same, please contact Heath Baker Law.
We’re the ally you need to see your child custody case through.