Do's and Don'ts for Winning Child Custody

Presenting yourself during a custody case

Verywell / JR Bee  

In your heart, you're probably committed to winning child custody. But do you know what you need to do—and not do—to make that happen? These do's and don'ts will help you present yourself to the courts in the best light and help you win your child custody case.

What to Do

When it comes to winning custody, you need to make sure that you demonstrate a willingness to work with your ex while also demonstrating that your children would benefit from you having custody. Here is a brief overview of the things that will improve your chances of winning custody.

Work With Your Ex

When trying to win custody, it's important to show a willingness to work with your ex. Some parents have actually lost child custody because of their demonstrated unwillingness to collaborate with the other parent.

So remember that while you may not like your ex, they are a part of your kids' lives, and you need to show the family court that you're willing to work together for the benefit of your children.

Exercise Your Parental Rights

Make sure you exercise your parental rights especially if you've been granted visitation rights with your kids. Spend as much time with them as you can, and make sure that you're doing regular, everyday things—including homework and chores—and not just the fun things like movies, bowling, water parks, and dinners out. Demonstrate that you are willing to do the less than glamorous aspects of parenting as well.

Request In-Home Custody Evaluation

If you're concerned that your ex will try to present a negative impression of your home life, request an in-home custody evaluation. This visit can be extremely helpful in your quest to win custody especially if things go well. Regardless, it's always helpful to have a neutral party evaluate your living situation and your parenting skills and make a report to the court.

Recognize Perception Is Everything

One of the hardest things to grasp in a custody battle is the fact that it doesn't really matter if what is being said about you is true or not; what matters is whether the court believes these things are true. Do everything you can to present yourself to the court as a competent, involved, and loving parent.

This includes arriving on time, dressing for court, and demonstrating proper courtroom etiquette in front of the judge. Remember, perception is everything.

Learn About Family Law

Read up on the child custody laws in your state so that you will know in advance what to expect. For instance, most of the time, each parent has an equal right to the custody of the children when they separate.

Consequently, courts often award joint custody when both parents are able to perform their parenting duties. But, if one of the parents wants sole custody, they must be able to demonstrate why joint custody is not in the kids' best interest.

Keep Documentation

In situations where you honestly believe your children would be unsafe with the other parent—for example, because your ex has a history of domestic abuse—you should carefully document your interactions with your ex, as well as their interactions with your children. Be aware, though, that the other parent may feel the same way about you and may be preparing similar documentation for the courts.

Find an Experienced Child Custody Lawyer

Even if you don't think you can afford a lawyer, set up a free consultation to discuss your options. You can also look for free legal clinics in your area.

Try contacting a local chapter of the American Bar Association or ask the Legal Aid Society for assistance.

What Not to Do

Winning custody of your kids when you and your ex separate is not an easy task, especially because most courts prefer some form of shared or joint custody. But, parents can sabotage their chances of custody if they are not careful. Here is an overview of things you should try to avoid doing while trying to win custody.

Talk Negatively About Your Ex

As hard as it might be, don't talk negatively about your ex—especially to your kids. Instead, try to keep your opinions and feelings about your ex to yourself. Even if your kids ask you difficult questions, try to keep it positive if you can. While you need to be honest, do your best to avoid bashing your ex in the process. Vent your frustrations to a trusted friend instead.

Arrive Late for Visits or Pickups

Little things like showing up late can be used to create a negative impression of your commitment as a parent. For this reason, you need to be on time when you have to pick up the kids or have a visit with them. Arriving on time also communicates to your kids that they are a priority.

Remember, divorce or separation is extremely challenging for kids. So, you want to be sure you demonstrate every chance you get that they matter to you.

Reschedule Your Time With the Kids

If you want to win custody, don't make a habit of rescheduling time with your kids. Repeatedly rescheduling your parenting time could make it appear to the court that you're just filing for custody out of spite—not because you really want custody.

Make sure you're there when you say you will be so that your ex can't present a documented pattern to the court that reflects negatively on you. Plus, rescheduling on your kids hurts them.

Misuse Alcohol or Drugs

Don't misuse alcohol or drugs, especially when you're with your kids. Aside from providing more ammunition for your ex, making poor choices ends up hurting your kids in the process. Plus, it's just something else that could be documented and used against you.

Make sure there's not even the suggestion that you're doing something that would put your kids at risk. Being a good parent involves making good choices that protect your kids' overall well-being.

Refuse to Follow Court's Requests

If you want to win custody, it's important to honor every request the court makes of you. Don't refuse to do anything the court is asking of you. This is your time to show the courts how committed you are. So if they require you to take parenting classes or seek counseling, do so immediately.

View the court's requests as an opportunity to demonstrate just how far you're willing to go for your kids.

Share Details With the Kids

It can be tempting to share the details of the case with your kids, but it's important to let them be kids right now and not place the burden of adult issues on their shoulders. Consequently, avoid talking to your kids about what is happening including things your ex has done or shared. While you can briefly answer their questions honestly, you should not be giving them regular updates.

Invent Negative Stories

When attempting to win custody, don't invent negative stories about your ex. Never come up with unfounded allegations of abuse or exaggerate your ex's shortcomings in order to win custody. Any lies you present will come back and be used against you in court. These stories also will likely hinder your chances of winning custody. Make sure everything you share is factual and can be substantiated.

A Word From Verywell

In most states, child custody laws require judges to consider the best interests of the children when determining custody. As a result, if you are trying to win custody, you need to make sure that the information you present in court demonstrates that awarding you custody would be best for the children.

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  1. National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. A Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases. 2012.

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