Gaining custody of a child after a divorce isn’t necessarily easy. If the other parent wants custody as well, things can get ugly fast.
Ultimately, you should fight for what’s best for the child. If you think that means the child should live with you, here’s how to improve your chances of gaining custody.
1. Hire a local family law attorney
The best thing you can do to prepare your child custody case is to hire an experienced family law attorney in your area. He or she will know the laws in your state and can help you fight for your son or daughter’s best interests.
An experienced family law attorney can also assist with filing the necessary forms at your local courthouse and ensure you avoid costly legal mistakes. In some cases, the attorney may even help you and your ex reach an out-of-court settlement through mediation or arbitration so you’ll save the time and money you would have spent on a legal hearing.
2. Address issues that could work against you
If the situation ends up in court, it’s vital to address any issues that could work against you. The judge will examine and assess every aspect of your life to determine your apparent fitness to take custody of your child.
So get your life in order. Among other things, this means keeping a steady job that enables you to support the child and obtaining a large enough apartment or home to house them if you don’t have one already.
3. Show respect for (and work with) the other parent
Civility and respect toward the other parent can go a long way in showing the court that you want what’s best for the child. So don’t say anything you wouldn’t want the judge to hear (and that includes on social media).
You don’t want to come across as bitter or having poor control over your emotions, and you certainly don’t want to use your children as weapons – by having them hurt or spy on the other parent, for example.
Remember that no matter what happens, your ex will still always be a parent to your child, as much as you are. So keep your personal feelings about your ex out of the custody settlement and don’t let it get ugly. Focus on the child, always.
4. Stay positively engaged in your child’s life
A custody battle can be emotionally hard on a youngster. She or he may feel anxious about the future and even accept blame for the divorce.
Let your child know that the divorce is not their fault and you are there for them no matter what happens. Try to shield them from any stress that the custody battle may generate, and above all, continue to honor your duties as a parent right now.
This will show you are a responsible parent and have the best interests of your child at heart.
5. Prepare for (and attend) the child custody hearing
Lastly, make sure you prepare well for the child custody hearing. That means compiling notes for what you will say. You won’t be given much time to speak (especially if you hire a lawyer to represent you), so you need to make every word count.
Prioritize your strongest points for why your child would benefit most from being in your care. These might include evidence of your past good parenting behavior, proof of your stable financial situation, and reasons the other parent may be unfit to have custody (e.g., crime, drugs, DUIs, etc.). Keep track of your evidence and keep it well organized.
Also, remember that first impressions count. So dress professionally, arrive on time, answer every question completely, and never interrupt the judge.
Custody battles are rarely pleasant. But if you follow all the tips above, the process should be bearable. The best thing you can do is to remain patient. It could take weeks or even months for the judge to reach a final decision.
So don’t give up. Show that you are a reasonable parent and that you are willing to work with the court system no matter what happens. Remember, a big part of this is a game of perceptions.
If you don’t win custody, you may appeal to the court to reconsider its decision. Stand up for yourself and your child by being persistent, and don’t leave your child’s future to chance.