Child custody is one of the most sensitive parts of divorce proceedings. While splitting assets can be a painstaking process, the time you have with your children cannot be made back. Depending on your jurisdiction, the courts will use various methods to determine child custody. The steps you take during your case will heavily influence child custody and determine what rights you have as a parent.
With this in mind, there are numerous factors to consider as you begin the process of preparing for a custody battle. Depending on your relationship with your spouse, proceedings can be amicable to downright nasty. Regardless of your situation, you need to get a few things in order to ensure your attorney can build a strong case that keeps your desires top of mind. Check out the below tips on how to prepare for a custody battle.
Understanding the Legal Landscape:
When discussing custody, the first thing that should come to mind is your attorney. An experienced divorce lawyer is a key resource to leverage when preparing your case to discuss custody of your children. Custody laws vary by state, but there are a few things to know before you discuss custody.
- Types of Custody:
- Physical Custody: Physical custody determines who is responsible for taking care of the children day to day. Essentially, this determines where the children will physically reside.
- Legal Custody: Legal custody determines who is responsible for making legal decisions on behalf of the children. Legal custody includes the ability to make decisions relating to healthcare, education, and religion.
- Custody Arrangements:
- Joint Custody: Joint custody means both parents have rights in either physical or legal matters. This type of custody means you will work with your co-parent when making decisions on behalf of your children.
- Sole Custody: Sole custody means that one parent retains either physical or legal rights on behalf of your children. When one parent has sole custody, they alone are able to make decisions on the children’s behalf. To note, if one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent may have visitation rights. This is common if the parents live far away, or if one parent is not able to care for the children effectively.
Your custody hearings will determine both physical and legal custody in addition to the custody arrangement for each type of custody. When you meet with your attorney to discuss custody, they will walk you through the process and ask for information to help build your case. It cannot be stressed enough that having an honest conversation with your attorney will be paramount in your children’s futures.
- Consider the following when meeting with your attorney:
- What outcome do you personally want as it relates to custody?
- Why do you believe that should be the outcome (with supporting evidence)?
- What is a typical custody outcome given your situation?
- What documents do you need to support your case?
- What is your current living situation and how do you plan to support your children with your desired custody outcome?
- What prior experiences could be used against you?
- What do you believe your children would want?
- What was your historical childcare arrangement with your spouse?
- How should you prepare for your day in court?
All of these pieces of information will help your attorney build your case and support your desired outcome. Your attorney will be your north star when it comes to child custody. Before your meeting, consider the above questions and come prepared to take notes, provide documentation, and work with your attorney to ensure your wishes are documented. It is important to come with an open mind, while attorneys are trained to deliver for their clients, they are not miracle workers. The legal landscape in your jurisdiction mixed with your history with your children will heavily influence what is possible.
Getting Your House in Order
When preparing for a custody battle, it helps to do an inventory of your situation. A life coach or therapist can assist in this process. A life coach can be instrumental in helping you design a life that works for you while considering your goals. A therapist can help you mentally prepare for your future. Each resource will be part of your trusted group of advisors.
Getting your house in order doesn’t only refer to your physical home, but also the way you represent yourself. Custody cases can include a review of your living situation. Do you have stable housing suitable for children? This can be a key piece of information that is used in proceedings. For example, if you live out of state, it is unlikely you will be given joint custody of your children. Simply put, if your children have lived in the same town for years, and you live hundreds of miles away from the family home, it is not feasible that you would split custody with your spouse. If you live in a studio apartment and have three children, it is unlikely that would be deemed suitable for joint custody either. Outside of your physical living arrangements, how are you showing up on social media? Pictures of you around town partying with friends, disparaging posts about your ex, and any indication you are not a suitable parent could be used against you. Consider scrubbing your social media for any posts that could prove problematic.
With your desired custody outcome in mind, consider how a third party would weigh your wishes against your current reality. Prepare your home for children and consider taking a break from social media. Even the most benign pieces of information can be twisted to demonstrate you should not be granted the outcome you’re looking to achieve.
When preparing for your custody hearing, consider how and what you communicate with others. To be clear, this includes your children, spouse, friends, and colleagues. Your attorney should reiterate this, but anything you say could be used to damage your case. Your attorney and a licensed therapist both have a legal obligation of confidentiality which can only be breached for very specific reasons. They can help you sort through feelings and facts while being legally bound to keep that information private.
It might seem tempting to try to sway your children or influence their feelings, but that is not advised. In many states, the children’s desires are taken into account when deciding custody. Coaching your children can be detrimental to your case as it shows that you are trying to manipulate the subject matter into getting your desired outcome. Your responsibility is to provide a safe environment for your children, do so with actions.
When it comes to communicating online, consider how your posts could be used against you. Consider taking a break from social media until your case is decided. Even work-related networking sites could be used to paint you in a bad light. If you’re required to network and attend events outside of working hours, could your spouse use that for grounds to show that you do not have enough time to properly care for your children? Think before you post, it could benefit you in the long run.
Last, but certainly not least, be cognizant of your presence on dating sites. Dating during a divorce can be used against you. Your spouse could use this to show you are more focused on finding a new partner than raising your children. A new player in the mix could give the other side ammo to damage your character, especially if a new partner has something to hide. Be careful when entering new relationships.
Building your Case
Once you’ve had the chance to meet with your attorney, it is time to build your case. If you are seeking a certain type of custody arrangement, you will need evidence that supports your desires. This could include documentation of your living arrangements, a home study, financial records, or evidence of past transgressions from your spouse. Regardless of what you are seeking, your attorney’s responsibility will be to prove that the desired outcome is what is best for the children. Following your meeting with your attorney, you will begin the process of gathering the evidence.
Remember, this process is all about telling a story. A competent attorney will paint a picture of your lives and explain why they believe a certain outcome is best for the children. In order to prepare properly, you need to arm your attorney with all relevant information so they can come to the table prepared. To be blunt, this may include disclosing information that makes you look bad. If you believe the other side may use something against you, then you need to be prepared to rebuke their allegations. There is nothing worse in a custody battle than being discredited. If you are claiming to be parent of the year, but your ex has evidence that shows the opposite, you may need to shift the narrative.
When you are building your case, remember to be honest. A clear picture of your situation will help your attorney work towards the best possible outcome.
If you’re lucky, this might be your first time in court! However, this is hopefully not your attorney’s first day in court. Keep that in mind as you prepare to appear before a judge. To be clear, you hired your attorney to represent you in court and their job is convey your case to the judge. Keep your responses to the point and don’t offer information that hasn’t been asked. Damaging or misleading information may be presented by the other side. This is not your time to yell, scream, or make outbursts. If the other side is claiming you have a temper, they may try to get a reaction out of you to demonstrate that you do in fact have a temper. Outbursts in open court is not the best way to demonstrate your calm temperament.
Courts run on a strict schedule. Being on time will help demonstrate your commitment to your children. Your physical appearance could also help support your case. Proper grooming, hygiene, and attire will demonstrate responsible behavior and respect for the court. Before you appear before a judge, ask your attorney what you should know. They will ensure you are prepared for the courtroom. Consider consulting a witness expert if you want more courtroom or trial instruction.
While custody battles are notoriously difficult, properly preparing will help you throughout the process. Remember you are not alone; you have a trusted team of advisors to help lead the way. Build your team carefully and you will have a strong foundation on which your case will be built. Ask your questions now and be prepared for the road ahead. Doing the work ahead of schedule will help put your mind at ease as you prepare for your day in court.