When preparing for a custody case, we often have clients ask what they need to do to get ready for the trial. We will have them focus on gathering documentation, and things we can do to better our client’s chances of a favorable outcome. However, just as important as the things you DO, are the things you SHOULD NOT do. Here is a list of the five things we see consistently from clients that can hurt your case for child custody.
- Do Not Talk To The Child(ren) About The Custody Case – When parents are involved in a custody dispute, there is often the temptation to ask the child(ren) involved how they feel about where they live. This is heavily frowned upon by judges. In most custody cases, the decision about where children live is not left up to them. And the feelings of disdain between parents can make children uncomfortable, or even feel like they need to pick a side. I often ask clients when addressing custody to do something very difficult. I ask them to try, for just a moment, to go back in their mind to before there was turmoil in their relationship with the other parent, and remember if they felt the other parent was a good mom or dad. This is a very difficult task, but many times, the answer is yes. This is the mindset that should be used when talking to the child(ren) about the other parent. Judges do not like to see kids put in the middle of a custody dispute, doing so will harm your case and, more importantly, harm your child.
- Do Not Openly Record Your Child Talking About The Other Parent – While sometimes we will advise clients to record certain conversation, you should never stick a recording device in your child’s face, or let them know that you are recording what they are saying about the other parent. This puts pressure on them to say the “right” thing, and makes it appear as though you are encouraging them to feel negatively about the other parent. Additionally, recordings of conversations with children are rarely admissible in court, so there is likely very little benefit to doing so. There are exceptions to this, so you should speak with your attorney if you believe your child is consistently saying things that would be relevant in court.
- Do Not Keep The Other Parent From Speaking To The Kid(s) – Despite the feelings you may have toward the other parent, they are still your child(ren)’s mother or father. Cutting the other parent off from the child(ren) will not improve your case for custody. One question judges often want answered is whether each parent will foster a loving relationship between the child(ren) and the other parent. Allowing the other parent contact with the child(ren) is one way to ensure that you are continuing to foster that relationship. You should be careful not to give the impression that you are using you child(ren) in any way against the other parent for any hard feelings you have toward them.
- Do Not Keep Information About The Child(ren) From The Other Parent – When you receive information about the children from school, doctors, or about their extra-curricular activities, make sure to share it with the other parent. This can be done by simply snapping a picture of an information sheet from school and texting it to the other parent, or sending a text with the children’s diagnosis and prescription information after a doctor’s appointment. This is critical because if you’re trying to show the court you can co-parent with the other side, or that you should be trusted as the primary legal custodian, then the Court needs to know you are capable of being trusted with that responsibility.
- Do Not Unilaterally Make Decisions Regarding The Child(ren) Without Speaking With The Other Parent, or Without A Court Order – When parents split up, they often find it difficult to agree on decisions involving the child(ren). Just because you are not together any longer, does not mean that both parents don’t still get input with regard to major decisions regarding the child(ren), at least not without a court order. Once custody is determined by a court, one parent usually has final decision-making authority with regard to certain issues. However, the great majority of custody orders also require the parent with final decision-making authority to discuss the issue with the other parent and make a good faith attempt to come to an agreement. Judges do not want to see parents cutting each other out of major decisions regarding the minor children.
It is important to note, that there are circumstances in which it becomes necessary to take some of the actions listed above. There are exceptions to every rule. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your attorney to determine what actions you should and shouldn’t take, and how you should approach various situations when you are involved in a custody dispute. The better position you put yourself in with regard to the judge’s perception of your parenting and ability to co-parent, the more likely you will have a favorable outcome in your custody case.