Winning a Child Custody Battle

Tips for single parents going through this challenging time

Family on walk

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A child custody battle may very well be one of the most stressful experiences a parent can endure, especially when you don't know what to expect. Even if you're not the one making it a "battle," you have to go into court with a solid plan of action to prove you're the more suitable parent. Use these tips to plan your case and increase the likelihood that you'll achieve the outcome you're hoping for.

Before You Begin

Before diving into a long and drawn-out child custody battle, ask yourself if it can be avoided. Parents interested in obtaining sole or "full" custody often end up in court, engaged in a difficult battle because neither party is willing to compromise to reach an agreement. In such cases, the court ultimately determines who will prevail, and the outcomes can be surprising—in part because there's a higher burden of proof for the parent seeking sole custody.

That's why it's important to consider whether a compromise is possible and if joint custody could actually be in your child's best interests—that is, provide the greatest stability and safest environment for him or her. If, after careful consideration, you're still convinced that filing for sole custody is your best or only option, you'll need to prepare yourself for what lies ahead.

Preparation

This means doing your homework, hiring an experienced and qualified family law attorney, and taking the time to understand the child custody laws in your state. Above all, do not take for granted that the judge will see your case from your point of view. The court's sole purpose is to do what is best for your child, and demonstrating that you share that focus can go a long way toward helping your case. Some things you can do to aid in that effort:

Consider your living arrangements. If you want custody of your kids, make sure your living situation reflects that you're able to provide a stable physical environment—sharing your cousin's bachelor pad won't go a long way toward convincing the court you're the fittest parent, for example. Judges are flexible about accommodations, but be prepared to show that you can provide a home with enough space for you and your children. If your spouse resides in the family home and you have to find new accommodations, consider a location that's in close proximity to his or hers. The court likes maintaining the status quo, so the less a child's daily routine is disrupted, the better.

Be informed about your kids. Know the details of their education (what's their favorite subject and the name of their teacher?), favorite pastimes, and friends. Do they have allergies or other medical issues or special needs? If you want to be your kids' primary care provider, be prepared to show the judge you care enough to know the fine details of their lives.

Cooperate with your spouse. The willingness of each parent to support and facilitate the children's ongoing relationship with the other parent is important to the court. Judges want to know that neither of you will stand in the way of your children's relationship with your ex. Likewise, they won't look favorably on parents that bad-mouth their spouse in front of the kids or interfere with visitation in any way.

Factors Considered

To win a custody battle, you need to be well prepared for the hearing, during which the court will consider the following factors when coming to a decision:

  • The better-parent standard: Parents involved in a custody issue should understand that what makes one parent "better" in the eyes of the court may not align with their point of view.
  • Documentation: Each parent has the opportunity to share with the court any relevant documentation that's been collected. This includes phone and visitation logs (especially if they show inconsistencies regarding your spouse's pre-arranged visitation schedule) and notes about observations you've made about your child's well-being while in the care of the other parent—for instance, if you notice changes in behavior like aggression or anger.
  • Witnesses: The judge wants to see a true picture of you as a good parent, so ask family members, neighbors, teachers, and anyone else who can testify on your behalf.
  • Proper court etiquette: It may seem superficial, but the judge will generally consider each parent's appearance in court. This includes the way you dress for your court appearance, as well as your attitude and demeanor during the hearing. 

    Visitation

    Parents who aren't granted primary custody during a child custody battle will often be entitled to generous visitation rights. Courts generally believe that a relationship with both parents serves the child's best interests, and no matter what becomes of your child custody dispute, it's in your best interests to stay involved in your child's life. Many parents find it helpful to develop a formal parenting plan, both to divvy up child custody responsibilities and to show your child you're willing to work together for his or her own good. 

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