Your custody case may be the most important fight of your life. Make sure you do everything you can to win it.
Understand that most custody cases can and should be settled through negotiation and mediation. Contact the Academy of Family Mediators for the name of a mediator in your area who can help you reach a settlement. When cases are settled, children tend to be able to cope better and there are fewer returns to court later to try to make changes to the custody situation.
Know that there are cases that cannot be settled, either because of abuse or neglect or simply due to extreme personalities.
Realize that if you have one of those cases, you need to find a good family law attorney. You may have to pay more than you'd like, but it is necessary.
Tell your attorney everything, even your secrets that you want no one to know. Be sure to tell your attorney all of the facts about the other parent. Leave nothing out and do not make anything up. Your attorney has to have all of the facts to achieve the outcome you want.
Listen to your attorney. Do every single thing he or she tells you to do, even if it causes you inconvenience or discomfort. Your attorney has had years of experience dealing with situations like yours and knows what to do.
Pay your attorney. If you do not pay your attorney, he or she may ask to be removed from the case. Even if the judge does not allow this, the attorney will complete your case with a lack of enthusiasm.
Document everything. Keep a log of visitation. Keep a log of what you do when with your child. Write down any problems you have with the other parent. Keep track of the money you spend on the child, the places you take the child, and the quiet at-home time you spend with the child. Make recordkeeping your second job. You want to be able to prove to the court that you are the best parent and that the other parent is not as good as you. Your word on this is not enough.
Talk to family, friends, daycare workers, teachers, or anyone who has knowledge about your relationship with the child or the other parent's relationship. Ask them to testify about what they know and explain why their knowledge is important.
Be polite and pleasant to your spouse and do not interfere with the other parent's relationship with the child. You do not want to be the one to start an argument. You need to make sure the other parent sees the child (unless there is a danger of abuse - then talk to your attorney). Not allowing this is called custodial interference and may cause the court to decide you are not a fit parent.
Never argue in front of the child. Do not speak poorly of the other parent in front of the child.
Try to be a good parent no matter what. This is what matters the most. You do not need to put your life on hold. Being a good parent means being balanced and well-rounded.
Remember that more money does not mean better parenting. Don't shower your child with gifts. This will not make the court happy.
Prepare for testifying. Ask your attorney to spend some time with you helping you feel comfortable with the procedures and types of questions.
Ask your attorney lots of questions when you are preparing for the trial. Do not ask questions when you are in court unless they are very important or the attorney has made a factual error about something important.
Get to court on time and dress appropriately.
Allow your attorney to do all the talking in court. That is why you are paying him or her, remember?
Be truthful. When you testify it is imperative that you tell the truth, not only because of the risk of perjury, but because if your untruthfulness is discovered, you will look like a liar and lying is a trait courts dislike.
Remain calm at all times and remember that your lawyer is the expert and you must trust him or her.
If you have an attorney and feel that he or she is not listening to your concerns and is not working hard enough, express your concerns. You may be able to work out the problem. If you feel your concerns are still not being met, find someone else immediately.
Tips and warnings
- If you have an attorney and feel that he or she is not listening to your concerns and is not working hard enough, express your concerns. You may be able to work out the problem. If you feel your concerns are still not being met, find someone else immediately.