If you want to win child custody and obtain a meaningful share of child custody, you must know that it doesn’t happen by accident. Additionally, it doesn’t happen just because you’ve obtained an excellent attorney. It’s the combination of good practices by you during the divorce and custody proceedings, having an educated and aggressive attorney, and most importantly – you’re own hard work and research. That combination will give you the best chance to win child custody.
It isn’t enough to successfully defend yourself over and over again in court against false allegations and unsupported commentary about your parenting interests or abilities. Oftentimes, you have build a fairly significant case against your ex-partner. The unfortunate reality is that courts continue to award child custody primarily to mothers in over 80% of contested child custody cases. Unless a mother is demonstrably an unfit parent, most fathers still can expect to be relegated to a non-custodial parenting arrangement. Beyond that, only when a significant change in custodial circumstances such as a major medical situation, an incarceration, a proven child abuse situation has occurred, etc. may there be a reason to award child custody primary or solely to a father.
Absent those circumstances, you have to be able to demonstrate your excellent parental fitness while at the same time proving your ex-partner’s lack thereof. It’s the saddest and most aggravating part of the Family Court System. The adversarial system almost necessitates this approach when the divorce and child custody circumstances are high-conflict. It takes a lot to demonstrate to a court that a mother is unfit. We simply refer in this case to the mother because we already know that fathers get little custody in the overwhelming majority of contested cases as it is. We assure you it’s not because 80% of fathers are unfit, unwilling, or otherwise unavailable to serve a meaningful parental role in their children’s lives.
As absurd as some of the following scenarios may seem, these are situations where parental fitness may (yes, we say “may”) be called into question:
- Arrest and conviction for substance abuse, DUI (usually with the kids), or other felony conviction.
- Children missing substantial time at school without justification, risking truancy and educational failure.
- Institutionalization for mental health issues.
- Repeatedly proven issues associated with Child Protective Services interventions.
- Repeated contempt of court issues, particularly if they’re related to custodial interference or parental alienation issues.
- Showing up intoxicated in court or otherwise acting-out in court in some significantly outrageous manner.
Beyond those issues or similarly significant situations, creating your case for parental unfitness requires you to support your contention with objective evidence. This doesn’t mean hearsay or unfounded accusations. You will need provable issues that demonstrate a potential danger to the children’s well-being. In addition to some of the items in the above list, consider some of the following:
- Constantly moving around town, changing schools, inability to maintain a stable residence.
- Romantically involved with partners with criminal records or a penchant for introducing an ever-changing number of romantic partners to the children.
- Always leaving the children with daycare providers or friends and family members to excess (child abandonment).
- Smoking around children in the automobile or in the home when the children have respiratory issues (and sometimes even when they have no respiratory-related health issues).
- Frequent custodial interference situations or withholding child custody from vacations which have been planned and paid for, holidays or other special occasions.
- Improperly maintaining health care and/or dental care for the children.
- Physical or sexual abuse situations involving the parent or romantic partner, friends, family of the ex-spouse.
The most important thing is that immediately upon the initiation of a divorce action against you which involves children, you have to start keeping a record, a journal, something that documents everything you’ve experienced or are otherwise aware of daily. If nothing unusual happens on any given day – just make a note of it and move on.
In addition to that, you need to be able to compile additional objective evidence that will help you to win child custody. They may be police reports, medical reports, arrest or conviction records, background checks performed on new romantic partners, and so on. Compile a list of witnesses to events that will support your allegations. Further, compile a list of witnesses that your ex-partner may use against you and why for your attorney. The level of attention you pay to your own case in conjunction with a quality attorney and your best behavior is what will give you the best possible outcome.
All of these efforts will make it significantly easier to prepare for your court testimony. These efforts will aid in the preparation of petitions, pleadings, and other related legal documentation for your legal team. (It will cut down on costs, too!) Finally, familiarize yourself with some of the legal proceedings. If you have the opportunity, visit family court and sit in the gallery and watch how things go. Go online and review your state’s child custody and child support laws. All of these efforts help make you the best prepared witness for your own case and help you to maximize the amount of child custody you can obtain.