Taking the Right Steps to Get the Outcome You Want in a Custody Dispute
Whether you’re currently going through the divorce process or your divorce is already final, if there are minor children from the marriage, there’s a potential for disagreement over custody. Though there are minor differences from state to state, when making custody rulings, the courts in most jurisdictions give priority to “the best interests of the children.” As a part of this assessment, the court can, and typically will, look at your actions. Here are some ways you can improve your chances of getting the results you want, as well as some things that might jeopardize your custody rights.
Things to Do Before and During a Child Custody Battle
When assessing whether granting you custody is in the best interests of the children, the court will look at your relationships with your ex and with your children. Accordingly, it’s typically in your favor if the court finds evidence that:
- You have a history of working cooperatively with your ex-spouse—That doesn’t mean that you let the other parent dictate all the terms of custody and visitation. It means that you show a propensity for engaging in compromise, particularly when it benefits your children. For example, you may be willing to swap weekends so that your children can participate in a family reunion with the other parent.
- You consistently and regularly spend time with your children—You give priority to the weekends and/or evenings you spend with your children and don’t cancel visitation or leave your children with sitters on a regular basis. You are on time to pick up your children for visitation, and you bring them back when promised.
- You integrate your children into your life, rather than simply entertaining them—When your children are with you, you do all the things custodial parents do, including housework, cooking, and home maintenance.
- You engage in appropriate behavior, particularly when your children are visiting you—You don’t schedule adult parties in the middle of visitation, don’t bring different sexual partners into your home when your children are visiting, and don’t engage in illegal activity.
- You honor the promises you make to your children and ex-spouse—You follow through on commitments to pick up the children, take them to school events, show up at their activities, or include them in family functions.
- You regularly participate in decisions—You’re actively involved in deciding matters relating to your child’s health, education, extracurricular activities, discipline, and religious training.
Things Not to Do Before or During a Custody Battle
You need to be careful that you don’t engage in behavior that can hamper your efforts to get the custody arrangement you want. You want to avoid:
- Making derogatory statements about your ex—It’s not just that it’s likely get back to your ex. It also makes your child feel bad. There’s never an excuse for making negative comments about your child’s other parent.
- Inconsistent visitation—It’s not a crime to be late to pick up your child, but you should always call, as soon as you know you’ll be late. If circumstances continually make you late, consider changing the time of the pickup, so you can meet your obligation. It’s not just a hassle for your ex—it can send the wrong message to your child. You also want to avoid regularly rescheduling visitation to do other things. That suggests to the court that custody is not that important to you.
- The abuse or misuse of drugs or alcohol, even when you’re not with your children—If you demonstrate substance abuse issues, the court will be reluctant to give you primary responsibility for minor children.
- Violation of the terms of your divorce decree or a court order—If the court has evidence to suggest that you might ignore orders or rulings, the judge will be less likely to rule in your favor.
- Sharing with your children the details of disagreements with your ex—It’s okay for your children to see that you and your ex have different opinions on certain issues. Those disputes should, however, be between you and your ex. When you bring your children into the disputes, they might feel somehow responsible.