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Custody of Children

It is your day in Custody Court. You are about to prove what a miserable person your ex is. Everything is about to go your way. Are you really sure of that?

The judge has never seen either of you before. This will hardly be the first or last custody hearing in their career. You aren't even the reason the court is in session, it's about the children. You have a competent attorney, but so does your ex. These next few minutes will decide the future of your children. Are you ready? This hearing will affect your children's lives for many years. Now, are you really ready?

There are 17 things you must do or must never do. Do you know what they are?

To Win You Must Do These 6 Things

  • Meet with your attorney to review the court's rules and your state's custody regulations. There are so many custody cases and so little time for review that the court attempts to achieve fair results by applying standards. You must be ready to show why different solutions are better for your children.
  • Recognize that the judge is all-powerful in this domain. Imagine sitting in the boss's office to discuss a work problem. Do you feel like equals? Your boss is a deity in that office. The judge is a god in the court room. The mediator or expert witness is highly respected in their own right. You are just a visitor, maintain your composure.
  • Understand that your appearance will count in your case. The judge doesn't know you. Your dress, preparation and conduct will be signs of respect to the court. My ex and I later requested joint permanent guardianship of our special needs daughter. The attorney prepared us for our testimony after warning us that the judge was very demanding. After ruling in our favor, the judge complemented our attorney's filing. Then said this would be would become the standard for filings in his court. It was a stressful day but ended very well.
  • Stick to the facts. Don't use negative descriptions or names. No one cares what you think about each other. Have proof of any issues and stay focused on the children. Today is about their future and welfare.
  • Realize today's results may last forever. Later changes may correct some problems, if you can make that happen. The legal system is busy and can be very costly. You cannot recover the time lost to a disappointing decision.
  • Prepare, practice and review. You will only get this one chance. Isn't this worth as much effort as you have ever put into anything important you have ever done before?

You Must Never Do These Things

  • Don't end emotional and physical connections with your children. There may be problems caused by distance or scheduling issues, but you must continue the relationship with your children. The court may view minimal contact as a parent losing interest. Separation can make it very difficult for one parent to keep up frequent contact.
  • Don't end or limit your presence in the children's daily routines. Doctors, teachers, coaches and friends should stay comfortable with both parents. The children need this involvement to assure their own fears of loss or abandonment. The courts will also look on this as evidence of your commitment.
  • Don't avoid therapy in any form when suggested by the court. These sessions may be used to test the quality of any bond with your children. They may also be a measure of your commitment to the judicial process.
  • Don't evade court requests or dates. This applies to the mediator, attorneys and any other staff or expert staff. You actions will just increase costs and delay the outcome. Your lack of concern, respect and courtesy will only convince everyone in the court that you lack commitment to your children.
  • Don't lose your temper. Any incident can end up on record and be used against you. This is the most stressful time of your life, but your children's lives are at stake. You must not give in to any provocation.
  • Don't be too quiet or naïve. When any action or testimony concerns you, tell your attorney immediately. Never let a mistake go uncorrected. There may never be another chance.
  • Don't use any falsehoods, a competent attorney should catch you every time. Document and stick to the truth. Convictions, assets, debts, and employment histories are all recorded. No one in life or the court enjoys hearing lies.
  • Don't allow unacceptable practices to continue. Demonstrate your maturity and concern to the court, your children, and the world.
  • Don't do more damage to your relationship with your ex. Keep a working relationship with the other parent to give the children some security and comfort. This is a difficult time for you all.
  • Don't let conflict destroy all you have tried to do. You are not close with your ex any more, nor are they with you. There was enough conflict before you decided to divorce, now is not the time for more. Any small victory may cost you more in the court room. 
  • Don't lose track of the goal. Your divorce was for the two of you. Custody is for the good of the children. This is not the time to take revenge on the other parent. If you cannot stay on topic, the court will notice and you will lose.

There are many useful books and manuals that you might study to help you thru this difficult time. Another useful source of information and publications is the Child Custody Library. You are not alone, please review published materials on child custody and reach out to your attorney.