The courts do not discriminate against dads; however, there is a perception that the opposite is true. Some base this perception on the reality that very few fathers are awarded sole legal and physical custody of their children. Although there can be several legitimate reasons why, it can be hard not to be discouraged by this perception if you’re a father seeking sole legal and sole physical custody. While the process can be long, expensive, and emotionally challenging, it is not impossible for a father to be awarded sole legal and sole physical custody. Judges try to ensure that the decisions they make are in the best interest of the child. In the absence of concerns such as physical abuse or alcohol abuse or drug abuse, judges look first to award joint legal and physical custody. Whether you are a father asking the court for sole legal and sole physical custody or for joint legal and joint physical custody, you should do everything you can to prepare for the case to be presented to the court by your attorney. By making the best case for custody, you can reach the result you are hoping for.
Below are 10 tips for fathers who want to present their best child custody case to the court.
1. Be Realistic and Honest
It’s essential that you are honest with yourself about what custody arrangement you can manage on your own. This requires that you practically consider your work schedule, your finances, and your available time to parent or co-parent. While sole physical custody may be what you want, it simply may not be realistic.
The court will want to hear from you during your testimony that you have a clear sense of the new life you are requesting to take on. You need to think of all responsibilities that you handle daily and how you will manage them while being a single parent.
Determine what you truly can and cannot do. Then, tell your attorney about what you can and cannot do so s/he can create a parenting plan that you can testify to in court. That attorney-client communication while drafting the parenting plan will improve the likelihood that your custody request will be well received by the court.
2. Make a Plan
The judge assigned to your case will expect you to be prepared for custody if it is awarded to you. Know the answer to the judge’s question wherein s/he will ask you to describe a typical “day in the life” of your child while in your physical custody. You must be able to describe the house your child will be living in, what school your child will be attending, who will be watching your child before and after school, who is cooking dinner, when is homework completed (and do you help with homework), etc. You should also know your child’s current teachers, pediatrician, dentist, and any other treating doctor. Last, you should also expect that the judge will ask you if you are financially prepared and capable of supporting your child if awarded the custody plan you are seeking.
3. Don’t Talk to Other Parents
You will want to speak to others who have been through the child custody process. It’s basic human nature. The goal of such a conversation is to make you feel better. They can offer insight and let you know what they went through so you can relate to their story. So, why should you avoid this? The most important point that you must remember is that everyone’s child custody and court experience is unique. Try your best to separate the emotional aspects of someone else’s story from the facts. You should try your best to ignore any fear or anxiety that you have over the situation.
4. Don’t be a Stranger in Your Child’s Life
You will need to present the court with evidence of you and your child having a meaningful relationship. While you may feel a strong connection with your child, the judge is looking for tangible evidence of that as well. Some common questions that lawyers ask of a father asking for custody are:
- Do your child’s teacher and school staff members at your child’s school know you?
- When was the last time you met with your child’s teacher or counselor or principal?
- Do you know how your child is doing in school?
- Do you sit and do homework with your child?
- Do you coach any of your child’s sports teams?
- Do you attend your children’s school, social, religious, and other important events? (E.g., school plays, birthday parties, and awards ceremonies)
- Do you know who your child’s best friends are?
5. Pay Child Support
No matter what you are asking the court to do for custody, you should continue to make regular child support payments. You need to have a good track record of each payment when you are presenting your case to the court. Even if you have an informal arrangement with your child’s other parent, you must maintain good records such as bank statements, copies of canceled checks, receipts for payments made on behalf of the child, and any other documentation that shows you have been consistently supporting your child financially.
If you are struggling to make payments, you should file a Motion to Modify Child Support. However, you should not attempt to get physical custody rights just to eliminate paying child support.
6. Keep Track of Custody Time
Having an accurate record of your custody time, especially the days you had your child overnight at your house, is an important part of the case you are presenting to the court. Custody time records not only show how often you see your child at the present time, but also demonstrate your commitment to being a father.
If you and your ex currently have a parenting plan that was submitted to the court when child custody was originally discussed, then be sure you are following the custody arrangements set forth in that plan. If your ex is not honoring those arrangements, or if they are keeping you from your child, document that too.
One simple way to keep track of your custody time is to use a Google Calendar or a child custody app such as Our Family Wizard. Look for a calendar or apps that include a time and date stamp as the other parent may demand such proof in court of your custody times and a calendar maintained in real-time is considered a reliable piece of evidence in court.
7. Make Sure Your Child Has a Bedroom
A court will ask you to describe your child’s potential living accommodations during a custody trial. No matter where you live, you should have a bedroom for your child or make a special place in your home for your child to sleep and have privacy. Be sure you have proper housing addressed before appearing in court to avoid any problems.
8. Be a Good (or Great) Coparent
The way you treat your child’s other parent is an important factor for the court in determining whether you can be a joint legal custodian. Being adversarial or rude to the other parent makes shared decision-making more difficult. If observed by your child, it can end up fracturing your parent/child relationship.
Because of this, judges tend to side with the parent who is not engaging in this behavior. Even if your ex is extremely difficult to co-parent with, do everything you can to be respectful. This includes speaking appropriately about the other parent to friends, family, and coworkers.
9. Listen to What Your Child Wants
While parents often spend most of their child custody case thinking about what they want or what they think is best for their child, a child’s opinion can be overlooked by the court. The judge will want to know what your child wants and may appoint a guardian ad litem to discuss this with them. By asking your child what s/he really thinks and wants to happen, you can better inform your decision-making. Allow your child(ren) to share their thoughts and opinions without trying to convince them or sway them one way or another. Just be their parent and actively listen. Use the information received to draft a proposed parenting plan that clearly indicates you listened to your child and care about his/her feelings.
10. A Simple Summary Sentence for You
If you are going to pursue a child custody case, you need to be able to present some compelling evidence as to why this new arrangement is in the best interest of your child.
Should you need the advice of an experienced child custody attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those issues with you.