Extremely stressful and emotionally charged, few things will challenge an adult in life that the child custody case that invariably comes with the dissolution of the marriage. It shouldn’t have to be this hard. You shouldn’t have to lobby a court for the right to parent your children and to be a meaningful, integral part of their upbringing. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what you have to do. You often have to do it while fighting off unspeakable false accusations and other horrendous character assassination attempts.
One of the toughest hurdles to overcome in a high-conflict child custody case is the intimate knowledge that your ex-partner likely has of you. As we are want to do in meaningful relationships, we are likely to share our biggest successes, greatest failures, stupid mistakes, dumb decisions, and maybe even worse. They all become bullets in the chamber of the proverbial firearm they have aimed at your parenting time. The high-conflict ex-spouse will use all of that information shared within the confines of a loving, trusting relationship to separate you from your child.
Of course, this situation is very likely the same for the other party, too. You know where they’ve fallen short, where they have made some mistakes, and done things that are part of a collection of secrets intended to remain in confidence. If they have to do with the upbringing or treatment of your children, well maybe that works in your favor. If it’s you, well then you need to be prepared. Which brings us to the first tip:
Be open and completely honest with your attorney.
A failure to do so will undoubtedly be a weak link in your case preparation. It leaves your attorney open to being made to look foolish, it undermines your credibility, and depending upon the severity of the situation – it could kill your case before it ever gets started. Share everything with your attorney.
The judge will read your petition before the case and know what you’re asking for.
With that in mind, remember that time is limited – the court hears many cases each day. Avoid holding something back to “spring” it on your ex-spouse. You might find yourself out of time before the opportunity presents itself. So…
Include all objective evidence you have to support your petition.
Don’t worry about losing an element of surprise. If you can support something serious with objective evidence, even with time to prepare it will be hard to overcome. That is a better risk than not being able to have the chance to “spring” something on them.
Include all relevant details you want the judge to know and prioritize the issues from most important to least.
Don’t have a laundry list of issues, a judge will not make to “issue number fifty” on your 96-page petition. Hit heavy and hit early with the top issues and have objective evidence to support your claims. Mere accusations aren’t as good as accusations supported by proof.
Serve the other party with plenty of notice.
Doing this enables the ex-partner plenty of time to prepare a response. When they do, you will have an idea about how they intend to proceed and meet your concerns with rebuttals and perhaps include accusations of their own about you. Then you have time to prepare as well.
Prepare a response to the response.
It may seem a little ridiculous, but this is the time to include any overlooked details and provide more support for your petition. It is likely that by the time your reply to their rebuttal will be the last to make it to the file before the hearing.