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Child Custody Court Do's and Don'ts
I will say that I am not a lawyer and this cannot be used as legal advice. If you can afford an attorney I strongly suggest you do so, but if you cannot afford an attorney this can be used as yet another information tool in your search to represent yourself.
Child custody court is a bitter, painful place to be when you want to spend more time with your children and the other parent won’t let that happen. You’ve probably gone through Mediation and that didn’t help and now you are placing the decision of how much time you get with your children in the hands of a judge. No matter what the judge says, unless he or she tells you that they are granting you full custody, nothing will feel like enough time but here are a few tips that may help your case in the eyes of the judge.
DO your research. Researching will give you a head start in this battle because you will be prepared. Research the school district in your and the other parents area, check into your children’s daycare or afterschool care, research to see if they are meeting your child’s education needs, if their licenses are up to date, if they have any violations; these things can easily be found on the Internet or by taking a full tour of the facility. Look into how your work schedule effects spending time with your children and determine if you can change your schedule to better fit their needs. Maybe you work the overnight shift and you can switch it so that you work while the children are in school instead. Look into the other parent’s schedule too, maybe they can’t switch their schedule and they are unable to spend more time with the children. Find out if your children are making their doctor’s appointments, look into frequency and how often the appointments are rescheduled but the other parent fails to take them. Offer to take them to their appointments and talk with their doctors. Show that you care more about the well being of the children.
DO document everything. Any kind of visitation you currently have document when the children are brought to you late or not at all, any cancelled or refused visitation. Any conversations that you have with the other parent try talking via text message or email, if you can record conversations in your state, do so. This information can be used as evidence in court to the lack of cooperation the other parent has with you.
DO dress the part. Wear a dark suit with closed toe shoes and a long sleeve shirt. Let the other parent dress any way they want to. Clothing can be distracting and the last thing you want is for the judge to be more focused on your clothing than your case. Be respectful to the judge; refer to them by their title Your Honor. You may despise him or her but in the courtroom don’t let it show, you are in an interview with this man or woman and they will determine how much time you will have with your children, this is the most important interview of your life.
DON’T argue. Let the other parent argue with the judge and you, but you remain calm. During this emotional time find some way to remain in the neutral zone. Let them scream about how hard it is to raise the children alone or speak over the judge, you sit back and breathe. Let them tell the judge what they really think of you and you say nothing, think of your children or whatever possible to block out your emotions and if you feel that you are losing it, pause for a moment and breathe some more. Court is not the place to let your emotions get the best of you, court is where you let the best you shine.
DON’T volunteer too much information, unless it is asked and if it is asked then be truthful and honest, even if it hurts. Answer all questions with a yes or a no. Example: Q “Do you own your own home?” A “Yes.” Here’s an example of volunteering too much information. Q “Do you own your own home?” A “I live in a four bedroom three and a half bath brick home….” Only describe the home if you are asked to describe the home. If you don’t understand a question, repeat it in your head and think about the question if you still don’t understand it,say so. This is not the place to pretend you are smarter than you really are. Be exact and provide the proof of that exact time and date, if you are estimating say so. If your ex brings up the fact that you cheated on them and that was the cause of the separation between you two, then admit it if you are asked.
DON’T get boxed in by saying that something is everything you know about a situation. If you tell the courtroom that you took your partner to dinner and a movie on 2/14/2009 and that’s everything you know then that is what they will go by. They will not accept that 20 minutes later you remembered that on 2/14/2009 you also went for a walk on the beach. Instead of saying “that’s everything I know” say something like “that is all I can remember at this time” this way if you remember something later you can recall on that information again.
Lastly, DO remember that you are doing this for your children, not to get back at the other parent. No matter what they are doing to you at one point in time you two decided to have children. You must separate your feelings for them from the ability to raise your children properly. Before you go to court ask yourself this question “If you had full custody of your children how much time would you allow the other parent to spend with the kids as well?” That question plays a big factor in your next steps. If you would only allow them the same amount of time that they are giving you now, then that makes you no better than them. Despite your feelings that person is your children’s parent also and as much as they need you in their life, they need them as well the BEST parents are BOTH parents.