Child custody could be the most contentious issue you have to litigate in your divorce, so if you have to go to court, you must be thoroughly prepared. Courts decide child custody issues based on what they deem to be the “best interest of the child,” so it’s incumbent on you to appear as the best option for your child’s health and welfare. Here are some of the factors the court will consider and what you can do to put yourself in the best light possible:
- Parent’s relationship with the child — The court will not place a child with a parent unless an emotional bond exists. If you haven’t been active in your child’s life up to now, it’s going to be difficult to convince a judge to grant custody. Be prepared to discuss the meaningful moments you’ve shared with your children.
- Quality of the parent’s engagement in the child’s life — You must demonstrate that you know what is going on in your child’s life. Can you name their teachers? Coaches? Doctors? Their best friends? Do you know what medications they take? Do you know the details of their after-school schedules and activities?
- Willingness of the parent seeking custody to cooperate with the other parent — Courts favor giving custody to parents they can trust not to interfere with the custody or visitation rights of the other parent. You must project a reasonable, friendly attitude toward your soon-to-be-ex.
- Parent’s lifestyle — Is the way you live compatible with the role of a child’s caretaker? If you routinely attend your favorite bar’s happy hour and then show up at home expecting dinner to be ready, or you see nothing wrong with recreational drug use, the court won’t see you as a custodial parent. Be prepared to testify to your maturity and stability. Lining up supporting witnesses can be helpful.
- Parent’s mental and physical states — At the minimum you should have the maturity, judgment, stability, energy and physical capacity to be a primary caretaker. Calm and reasonable comportment in court, a tidy appearance and punctuality are important.
- Parent’s employment or economic status — This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you want to demonstrate an ability to provide a good standard of living. On the other hand, you can’t be so focused on a demanding career that you have no flexibility to carry out the duties of a primary caretaker. How much a work commitment disqualifies you from sole or joint custody depends greatly on the age and maturity of your children. Be prepared to demonstrate the proper balance.
- Parent’s home environment — Can you provide a residence that promotes the health and welfare of your children? If your spouse gets the house, and you have to live in a studio apartment, it’s going to be difficult to convince a court to grant custody. However, a modest two-bedroom home in a safe neighborhood may be sufficient. Remember that older children need greater privacy. Be prepared to demonstrate how your home meets the needs of your children.
A custody battle is demanding. There may be psychological evaluations, home visits and extensive background checks. But if this is a fight you’re willing to have, you need to put in the time and effort to prepare.
If child custody is a crucial issue in your divorce, speak to an experienced attorney in the Buffalo area known for aggressive representation. Call the Law Offices of Randy S. Margulis at 716-886-9600 or contact our office online to schedule a consultation.