Be Actively Involved
Make sure you are able to demonstrate that you are significantly involved in your child’s life by taking an active role in the care, development, and discipline of your child.
If your child is young, participate in feeding, bathing, walking, reading, napping, and medical care. As they grow older, take part in their educational development and extracurricular
activities. Get to know your children’s teachers, doctors, counselors, and coaches. Your ability to demonstrate the extent and quality of time with your child prior to and post-separation is critical. If the other parent is interfering with your involvement, document your attempts and the resistance that you are receiving.
Establish a Physical Custody Schedule
If you live separately from the other parent, it is critical that you negotiate a physical custody schedule that accurately represents your long-term goal of shared parenting, ideally before a custody petition or complaint has been filed. If you currently have a visitation agreement, make every effort not to miss any of your scheduled time.
Spend as much time with your child as possible. Once parents have been following a set schedule for a significant amount of time, the Family Court will look to this schedule as the status quo and Judges don’t like to change what appears to be “already working”. NOTE: Percentage of Physical Custody is generally calculated by the number of overnights the child spends with each parent per year.
Promote Involvement of the other Parent
Show that you encourage the contact and active involvement between your child and their other parent. Unless clear evidence shows the child is in danger while in their care, the Family Court will frown upon your interference with the child’s relationship to their other parent. During a dispute, don’t encourage your child to call other adults by parental names such as “Mom” or “Dad”; this will cause tension, confusion, and it may be interpreted as Parental Alienation by the Family Court. Avoid any actions that clearly alienate your child from their other parent.
Provide a Healthy, Stable Environment
Present a safe, nurturing and stable environment. Demonstrate that you provide a healthy environment by maintaining a steady, clutter-free home with a bedroom for your child and a safe play space. Provide regular, nutritious meals and keep a record of your grocery receipts.
Be Dependable, Demonstrate Consistency
Always be punctual for exchanges, pick-ups, and drop-offs. Provide younger children with a steady routine to encourage a sense of security and self-discipline. If the other parent is unreliable and often late for scheduled exchanges, clearly document these occasions. Maintain records of your correspondence with the other parent that demonstrates your reliability and commitment to your child’s needs.
Keep Your Composure and Put Your Child First
Custody disputes are often contentious and highly emotional, but maintaining self-control is paramount. Whether you are still living together or in separate households, it is critical that you remain calm and collected in all interactions. Communication with the other parent should be mild-mannered. When discussing parenting matters, keep the topic centered around the needs and well-being of the child.
Prior to any exchanges or interactions with the other parent, remind yourself to be non-confrontational with your actions and words. Your interactions during child exchanges can be cited in evidence. If a contentious issue is brought up in front of the child, gracefully request that you both continue the conversation via e-mail or during a time when the child isn’t present.
Connect with Other Parents
It’s important that your parenting efforts and commitment to your child is witnessed by others in the community. Maintain an active rapport with fellow parents and families. Join a playdate group, schedule weekly outings with other families, or attend kid-friendly community events. These parents will be able to attest to your involvement and behavior around your child, as well as demonstrate to the Judge that you have maintained a strong support network. If testimony is needed to support your custody case, these individuals can shed some positive light.
Parenting Skills & Responsibilities
It may become necessary to demonstrate your parental skills and responsibility to the Family Court.
Depending on your case, you may need to highlight your competence in:
- Exercising proper discipline or behavior management (corporal punishment is not recommended)
- Educational and developmental guidance (homework, art projects, learning activities, etc)
- Positive role modeling (consistency, patience, morality)
- Your ability to connect emotionally with your child (understand how to effectively soothe them and help them problem solve)
If you can improve or modify your current situation, behaviors, or parenting skills that positively impact your child, you should implement those changes immediately. Do not underestimate how much a disgruntled ex will try to place your parenting skills in question.
Keep Impeccable Documentation
It is essential to maintain a daily journal with accurate times and locations of events and incidents. Log activities, adventures, and milestones with your child and any incidents or confrontation involving the other parent. It’s best to record information soon after the event occurred and make sure your writing is legible in case it is used as evidence.
Keep all communication with your ex including email, text messages, voicemails, instant messages, and handwritten notes/letters. Maintain an organized and labeled file folder and photo album. Keep accurate financial records with bank statements, receipts, pay stubs, and child support payment history. If there has been any concerns or incidents of domestic violence, drug or child abuse, or false allegations, keep accurate notes, obtain any available police reports, and above all, learn how to collect powerful evidence and organize it for your case.
For further guidance on how to gather and prepare evidence for a child custody case, read Evidence Strategies for Child Custody, an essential guide book for any parent in a custody dispute.