Custody Contention: What to Do and What Not to Do When Custody of Your Kids is at Risk
Understanding what types of things you should and shouldn’t do going into custody situations can help to ensure you make smart choices, which will go a long way toward protecting your custody rights.
Do Insulate Your Children from the FightingNo matter what the other parent is doing, you need to always put your child's best interests first. While difficult, this means that you can never engage in fighting where your kids can hear it. You can't even 'vent' to friends and family while the kids are around. If both parties are acting properly, the kids should never even know that a custody battle is erupting around them. Even if the other parent doesn't follow this advice, it is still the right way to handle things for you. In addition, when judges hear about a parent inappropriately involving the children in this type of fight (and they often do), it reflects very poorly on the parent.
Even better than just hiding any fights from your children is actually avoiding the fights all together. Using alternative dispute resolution techniques such as mediation or arbitration can help to build a relationship that can be very helpful for co-parenting in the future.
Do Not Withhold Child SupportIf you are responsible for paying child support to the other parent, you must always make those payments on time and in full. Even if the other parent is not letting you see the kids or causing other problems, you are obligated to continue making child support payments. Of course, you can work with your attorney to legally change what you have to pay, or to enforce your rights to the children. You can't, however, act outside the legal system or it will do your case far more harm than good.
Do Keep Accurate Logs of All ActivityIf you think a custody battle may be taking place at some point in the future, you need to start logging every interaction with your children, your attorney, and especially your ex. If your ex denies you parenting time, for example, write down exactly what time this happened and how it occurred. If they don't make a child support payment, write this down too. Any type of information you can gather together can be very useful in strengthening your case for maintaining or gaining custody of your children.
Do Not Make Major Life ChangesCourts often look for stability for the children, especially if it is during or shortly after a divorce. With this in mind, you want to keep any significant life changes to a minimum. In addition to
looking better to the judge, it is also going to be what is in the best interests of your child. Examples of major life changes that you want to avoid include:
Marriage - Don't get remarried when a child custody battle is taking place.
Moving - If it is avoidable, try not to move home's during this time. It can be upsetting to the children, and looks less stable to the courts.
Move In with Significant Other - Don't have a new partner move in with you (and don't move in with them). Taking time to focus on your children now is the best decision you can make.
Force Changes on Kids - Unless it is unavoidable, try not to make it so the kids have to change schools or other significant parts of their lives.
Do Answer All Questions HonestlyWhether in court or in a written document, it is critical that you always answer questions honestly. Even if you've made some mistakes in the past, it is better to own up to them now than to get caught in deception later. Your attorney should go through any potential questions you might face, and help you to come up with an honest answer that will reflect positively on your case.
Do Not Delay Involving an AttorneyWhether your child custody battle is simple or complex, you need to have an attorney working on your behalf. Family law courts are very complicated, and even minor mistakes can cause delays in your case being heard, or worse, problems with winning your case. Having an attorney who is familiar with the specific court that your case will be heard in is one of the most important things you can do to give yourself and your children the best chance at getting the results you desire.
Do Follow the Court RulingsIf the judge does not rule in your favor, it can be tempting to disregard what the court order has to say, and do what you feel is best for your children. While this can be very tempting, it will ruin your chances of winning any cases in the future, and could even land you in jail. As difficult as it may be now, your best option is to follow the court order exactly as it is written.
Do Not Give UpJust because a judge rules against you doesn't mean you don't have any options for overturning the ruling. You can appeal their decision, or petition for some other type of change. If you lost a custody battle, the next move is to talk with your family law attorney to determine what options you have for moving forward. Many people who have lost a custody battle have successfully appealed to get the results that they desire.
Child Custody is a Long Term GoalNo matter what has prompted your child custody battle, you need to make sure you recognize that this is likely to be an issue that you face for years to come. Until your children are adults,
there is the potential that custody orders can be changed. Focusing on always making the right choices for your children will help to ensure you are always in a good position for a potential custody issue.