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Protecting Your Child Custody Rights in a Divorce: How to Keep Your Child

Updated on September 24, 2014
Protect your child custody rights in a divorce.
Protect your child custody rights in a divorce. | Source

Basics of Child Custody

Child custody is often the most contentious part of a divorce. Although child custody can bring up strong emotions, it is important to remain calm and to comply with all court orders if you want to preserve your custody rights. While you may feel compelled to do whatever it takes to do what you think is best to protect your child and preserve your relationship with her, acting rashly will only hurt you in the end. Since custody can be stressful, you may find it useful to go to counseling--both on your own and with your child--so that you can find constructive ways to cope with the challenges, stress, and uncertainty.

Child Custody and Legal Representation

If you are involved in a child custody case, it may be in your best interest to retain an attorney. Child custody law in complex and the regulations and procedures vary from state to state. Given these variances in the law, researching your rights and responsibilities can be difficult. If you are unemployed or cannot afford an attorney, contact the clerk of the court that is handling your custody case. He or she will be able to put you in contact with free or low-cost legal aid resources.

Hiring an attorney can be particularly important if you and the child's other parent have a strained relationship. While many former couples are able to divide custody and visitation without any legal intervention, if you have a difficult relationship with your ex or if the relationship was abusive, hiring an attorney may be in your best interest, both to protect your right and you and your child's safety.

Likewise, it is a good idea to hire an attorney if your spouse has retained a lawyer. Although it is possible to defend your own custody case in court, it can be difficult for a layperson to present the same quality of case as an experienced family attorney.

Custody and the Best Interests of the Child

As you proceed with your child custody case, keep in mind that the court will make a custody determination based on the child's best interests. When determining the child's best interests the court looks at not only your ability to provide for the child physically, but also your capacity to maintain a stable emotional environment. To assess the suitability of your home environment, the court may require you to work with a professional custody evaluator. He or she may want to visit your home and interview each family member to gain a broader perspective on each parent's respective skills and the child's needs.

Even if your court does not require you to work with an evaluator, the judge will look at factors such as the atmosphere in your home. For instance, do you have frequent conflicts in your home or are you able to resolve conflicts peacefully? Likewise, the court will look at your relationship with the child. Do you get along well or do you have a strained relationship with your son or daughter.

The court will also look at your understanding of the child's needs. This may be a particularly important factor if your child has academic, behavioral, or medical problems. Along with this, the court will evaluate your ability to meet your child's needs. For instance, if you have a child who is struggling academically, the court may take a careful look at your work schedule to make sure you have the flexibility necessary to work with teachers, tutors, and other professionals.

If you and your spouse ultimately decide on a custody agreement on your own, there is no guarantee that the court will accept it. In the end, the child's best interests trump the parents' wishes.

Contested Custody Cases

In contested child custody cases, or cases where parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the court may conduct a formal investigation to help determine what custody arrangement is in the child's best interest. For some parents, the child custody investigation may seems intrusive and stressful. For example, the child custody investigator will probably ask you about your lifestyle, romantic relationships, work history, and mental health. The child custody investigator may also visit your home and inspect your living spaces. Even if this child custody investigation makes you feel uncomfortable, it is important to cooperate with the evaluator if you want to protect your custody rights in a divorce.

Not all states use child custody evaluators, however. In such instances, you may need to hire a child psychologist or other qualified mental health professional to evaluate your child and testify on your behalf if you have reason to believe the child's mental health is at risk by being with the other parent. Likewise it may be beneficial to hire a third-party mental health professional to work with your child if the other parent is accusing you of abuse, neglect, or being an unfit parent.

During a child custody case it is important to comply with all orders issues by the court. Although this may sound like common sense, during a divorce and custody dispute, it is easy for a parent's emotions to cloud his or her judgment. In short, even if you do not agree with the court's custody ruling, it is still essential to follow the judge's mandates if you want to protect your child custody rights in a divorce. Remember: if you do not get the ruling you want, you can always appeal the decision later on.

For divorcing parents, one of the most difficult parts of a contested child custody case is maintaining a civil relationship with the soon-to-be-ex. Even if you are frustrated and angry with your ex (or think he or she is a bad parent), it is important to show him or her respect, especially around your children. Bashing your ex publicly, or trying to turn your children against their other parents, is a serious issue that might affect you child custody rights.

Providing a Stable Environment

Even if you are already divorced from your spouse or were never married to the child's other parent, during a custody hearing, it may be advisable from refraining from dating or bringing a new partner into the child's life during the custody case. Likewise, moving, changing your child's school, or making other major life changes may not be looked upon favorably by the court. Because new situations can be stressful--even if they are ultimately positive--the court may view a new partner or other significant life change as a sign of instability. Thus, until your child custody issues are resolved, is a good idea to maintain to the greatest extent possible.

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      kelsey 2 years ago

      My sister is getting a divorce with her husband this year. It is a process that she is not familiar with at all so I am trying to have a lot of support for her. Hopefully she can find some good legal help to make sure she keeps the custody of her children.