What to Expect During a Custody Battle
Going to court for custody of your children is painful for everyone involved. The parents are worried about not having time with their children on top of being emotionally and financially strained it the midst of a divorce. Children are also affected when they realize they face a future where their mother and father do not live under the same roof. If the parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement on their own, their disagreement will go to court, giving all the decision making to the judge.
How Courts Decide Child Custody
If the parents cannot come up with an acceptable custody arrangement on their own or in mediation, the decision of where the children will live and how visitation will work will fall to the court system. Family court judges make decisions based on what is best for the children and not necessarily what the parents are requesting. In most cases, one parent is given physical custody and the other is given visitation, but both parents are granted joint legal custody of the children.
In some other cases, one parent will agree to a parenting plan and the other will not. When one parent is not in agreement with the plan, he or she must go to court to have the issue resolved. In this situation, both parents should retain the help of a family law or child custody lawyer in order to make sure they are represented properly and their parental rights are protected. Having a good family law lawyer is also beneficial to help turn the child custody agreement as much in your favor as possible.
When a child custody issue goes to court, there are a number of factors the court and judge will consider when making a decision about which parent will have primary custody. Aside from which household will be in the best interest of the children and which parent is best suited to care for the children, both physically and financially, the judge will also consider:
- Child/Children’s Genders
- Child/Children’s Ages
- Medical History/Medical Problems
- Proximity of Parent’s Home to Extended Family Members
Additionally, if the child is 12 years or older, the court will sometimes request to hear the child’s preference in regard to where he or she would like to live.
Preparing for a Child Custody Case
Since the meaning of the phrase “best interest of the children” can mean many different things, it is important to make sure you are properly prepared for your child custody case in order to have the best possible outcome. Generally, parents who are active in their children’s lives are favored as well as parents who encourage a positive relationship between the children and other parent. Here are some additional ways you can prepare for your child custody case:
- Proper Home Environment: Maintaining a proper lifestyle and home environment is important to proving to the court that you are able to care for the children in the appropriate manner. The home the children are intended to live in should be kept clean and safe, meeting the basic standards of cleanliness. Additionally, as a parent, you should maintain your own physical and mental health, as well as your appearance, in order for the children to live in a healthy lifestyle.
- Keeping Proper Documentation: Being prepared and having the proper documentation is also an important part of being successful during a child custody case. Parents should consider keeping a log of all the details about the custody process, such as notes that highlight their efforts to improve their overall parenting skills and facilitate positive interactions between the children and other family members. Additionally, parents may want to keep notes of moments where the other parent may have presented themselves as unfit to have custody of the children. Finally, all documentation that is given during the custody process should be kept and organized as well as keeping a list of individuals who may serve as witnesses to their parenting skills.
- Enlisting the Services of a Therapist: Since the children’s well-being is the most important thing to the court, it is important to make that a top priority. By providing the children with counseling, the court will possibly ask the therapist for an assessment of the children’s well-being – this can be a valuable legal tool for parents wishing to have physical custody. While many counselors may be hesitant about making custody recommendations, they will be willing to make a testament about what the children need in order to live a balanced life.
- Assistance from a Child Custody Attorney: During all contested custody disputes, both parents should seek the legal help of a child custody lawyer. Even if the custody disagreement is part of an existing divorce process, it is important to know that not all divorce attorneys all well-versed in family law and child custody issues. Because of this, it is important to find a lawyer who specializes in child custody to ensure you are being represented properly as a parent.
Dealing with the Children’s Wishes
In custody cases that involve older children, such as teens or teenagers, the court will sometimes ask the children what their preferred custody arrangement is. Asking for their preference is part of deciding which household is best suited for the child’s overall well-being. While the children will not always be granted their wishes for a living arrangement, the court will take their desires into consideration as well as their explanation for why they wish to live with one parent over the other.
Should the children not wish to live with you, it is important to understand why and work to build a stronger relationship with them. Building a better relationship is important, regardless if you are seeking custody or not. Hopefully, through the relationship building process, the children will change their mind about where they wish to live or help all parties come to a more peaceful, agreeable outcome.
In special circumstances, when neither the mother nor the father is able to properly care for the children, other family members may request custody of them. This is called non-parental or third party custody and is usually granted to family members such as grandparents, aunts and/or uncles. Every state has its own laws and procedures for this type of custody arrangement but the process will generally always involved the court system. If the children’s parents are still alive, and their whereabouts are known, they will often have to be petitioned to the court in order to relinquish their parental rights to the third party.
Child custody battles are very emotionally charged. While everyone wants to have custody of their children, it is important to remember who the most important person is during this legal case – the children. Reaching a custody arrangement between parents, in mediation, or on their own, is often the best course of action whenever possible. But, should one parent not agree to the arrangement or both parents are not willing to compromise on the custody arrangement, the case will go to court for a judge to decide. By properly preparing for the case, it is possible to have a favorable outcome.