Your Child's full name, nickname, birthdate, current address and school
This information is essential. Since the purpose of the case is to establish who cares for the child and how, your attorney needs as much information about the child at issue. The Court uses this information to establish that it has jurisdiction to determine who cares for the child. Your attorney will also use this information to determine what kind of investigation to pursue to support your case. A lawyer asks different questions of an infant's daycare provider than of a school-aged child's teachers. A two-year-old is less likely to be involved in a sports team or music lessons than a twelve-year-old.
The more information you can provide about what your child's day-to-day life is like helps your attorney find the best approach to take with the Court to establish your case.
Information about the other parent/caretaker
Your lawyer will need to know about the opposing party - the other parent in the equation. Some basic information is required to give your attorney locations where the other parent can be served, but other information is helpful for establishing the case. For example, your lawyer needs to know where the other parent lives because this will help determine the visitation schedule your attorney will propose.
You also need to tell your lawyer whether and where the other parent works because this, too, will have an impact on the visitation schedule. The type of work the other parent does can also have an impact on the type of custody the Court could award.
You should also let your lawyer know whether the other parent has married or is living with another adult and/or other children. The child is impacted by the types of relationships to which he or she is exposed, and the Court is interested in which other adults would have regular contact with the children.
History of Domestic Violence
This may feel like an extremely personal or embarrassing question, but it is extremely important for your case. Domestic violence has a strong impact on children and the Court has an obligation to ensure that the custody arrangement between the parents protects the child from harm.
Your lawyer will want to know if you've ever been accused of domestic violence or whether you or the child have victims of domestic violence. Of particular importance is whether you are or have been involved in a current or prior case of domestic violence on file with the Court.
Note, if you have been accused of domestic violence, the Court is acutely interested in whether the domestic violence charges came from the other parent or on behalf of the child as this will directly impact the type and amount of contact the Court will grant you.
Addresses for where the child lived over the last 5 years
Your lawyer is required to report these addresses in an initial complaint for custody, but this information also provides another point of reference for the case. Your attorney is building a case to support your custody interests, and where the child has lived, and with whom, matters. If the child has moved around frequently within the past five years, it can indicate a lack of stability or an effort to provide security and stability for the child. There are strategic arguments your lawyer can make based on this information, which can be reinforced by interviewing any other adults who lived with the child at each of the prior addresses.
Information about any other cases involving the child
Your lawyer needs to know if there are any other cases involving the child mostly because the Court, for efficiency's sake, will combine the cases if possible. Any juvenile delinquency cases, child support cases, or abuse and neglect cases can indicate to the Court different needs the child may have. This can impact the case your lawyer presents because each child custody case is fact-specific and depends entirely on the child's and parents' situations. If any other cases are in the system, even if it is not in the District's Courts, your attorney will use those cases to tailor the arguments on your behalf.
Whether child support has been ordered
Child support orders often become a reason parents want to renegotiate child custody. The amount of time the child spends with each parent affects how much child support the non-custodial parent must pay until the child turns 21. Judges have been known to deny requests to alter child custody arrangements if it seems the non-custodial parent wants to get out of paying child support more than whether it would be beneficial to the child to change the arrangement.
Another reason your attorney would ask about child support is to determine whether it would be beneficial to your child, if you are the custodial parent, to receive support if you are not already receiving it. Parents have an obligation to support their children, whether they live together or not. It may be strategically important to your case to ensure that you press for child support.
Whether you receive TANF, Medicaid or DC Healthy Families assistance
Your lawyer will ask whether you are receiving any of this aid because it can impact whether your attorney suggests that child support would be an important part of your custody case. If you are receiving any of these social supports, it can be an indication that you are doing what you need to do to provide for the child. Further, your attorney can use this information to show that you are already making certain kinds of decisions regarding the child's health and welfare to support your argument for custody.
Remember, your lawyer will ask many questions, some of them rather personal, to ensure that she is able to make an argument in your favor based on all the facts. Your lawyer is not obligated to tell anyone any private information you share with him unless you specifically allow it. However, it is your responsibility as the client to answer your lawyer's questions truthfully to make sure she can present the best case possible to achieve your custody goals.