Legal Advice: 5 Tips For Child Custody Battles

Tips, strategy and legal advice on the best way to handle a child custody battle in court, including the best interests of the child.

There is no situation for which the admonition to "choose your battles wisely" is more appropriate than in the case of a child custody battle.Before you decide to engage in a battle with your ex-spouse over the custody arrangements for your child, take these five tips into consideration.

1.Take The Battle Out Of It.

When two parents do battle over a child, nobody wins.As a parent, it is your job to at all times be the adult in this situation and to protect your child from harm, not only physical harm, but emotional harm as well.Whether it is outwardly apparent or not, your child is going through a difficult time as a result of your divorce.Remember that, especially for young children, the world is a very egocentric place in which to live.Young children tend to believe that the world revolves around them and that anything that happens in their worlds pertains to them directly.Under the right circumstances, being a child who is the star of your own little world can be fun and exciting.But when things go wrong, a child's egocentric tendencies can wreak havoc on the child emotionally.For example, because a small child naturally takes everything so personally, your child may be experiencing irrational guilt, thinking that the break-up is his or her fault.Your child may be feeling unloved or abandoned, thinking that the parent who made a choice to leave the home did so because of the child rather than because of a deterioration of the marriage.And, a child who closely identifies with his or her parents can easily view one parent's rejection of the other as a rejection of the child as well.

Now, more than ever, your child needs constant reassurance of both parents' love and support.The very best way you can do this during the divorce and child custody process is to remain on as good terms as possible with your ex-spouse.Rather than viewing the child custody process as an adversarial battle, view it as you and your ex-spouse working in cooperation, with the assistance of the court and perhaps other outside resources, to make the best possible arrangements for your child.Rather than angrily hashing it out in court, consider a voluntary mediation.In a mediation setting, both parties state their wants and needs, present their respective sides of the situation and work with an impartial mediator to hammer out details that will make all parties, and most significantly the child, as happy and as comfortable as possible.

Although it will be difficult at times to view this as a cooperative effort, it is your job as a parent to do so to the greatest extent possible.Divorcing your ex-spouse does not erase the fact that the two of you have a child together and will continue all of your lives to have the obligations as parents that go with that responsibility and privilege.Do everything you can to make this a cooperative effort of two loving parents, rather than an adversarial battle.

In order to achieve a cooperative environment, it is important that you monitor your own behavior carefully.Do not, under any circumstances, argue with your ex-spouse in front of your child or even within earshot.If you must disagree, do so in a neutral place completely away from your child.Children are extremely perceptive.Do not for a minute think that because your child is outside playing while you are indoors arguing that he or she does not know what is going on.Your child is very aware of any tension between you and your ex-spouse and may experience great stress as a result.Do not make derisive or derogatory comments about your ex-spouse within your child's range of hearing, and especially do not make such comments directly to your child.Remember that, for most children, making a rude or bad comment about their parents is akin to making a hurtful comment about the child.Assure your child as often as possible that both you and your ex-spouse love him or her and will always work together as parents to keep your child safe, healthy and happy.

The more you can turn this into a cooperative effort, with the goal being the best interests of your child, the more likely it is that your child will come out of this with his or her self-esteem and well-being intact.If it is possible, consider a joint custody arrangement that will allow your child to continue to have the love and support of both parents on a regular basis.

2.Consider The Best Interests Of Your Child.

The biggest factor the court will consider in determining the custody arrangements for your child will be what arrangements are most in your child's best interest.Make sure that this is also the biggest factor that you, as a parent, consider.Make sure that if you are requesting custody of your child be placed with you, you are doing so for the right reasons.Now is not the time to be selfish.Consider what arrangements will be best for your child in terms of his or her education, safety, health, comfort and happiness.Consider also what arrangements will allow your child to continue in the most stable representation of his or her former life with both parents.

Under most circumstances, the best arrangements for your child will be those that allow him or her to remain in the family home, to continue his or her education in the same school and to play with the same friends.The goal here is to provide your child with as much stability as possible.In most cases, uprooting your child and forcing him or her into a completely different life is not going to be the best thing for your child.

On the other hand, there are circumstances which may warrant removing your child from his or her current environment.Such circumstances may exist if your child is being neglected or abused or if your child is being exposed to an environment that includes drug or alcohol abuse or criminal activity.Keep in mind, however, that differences in lifestyle or religious preferences between you and your ex-spouse do not necessarily constitute a poor environment for your child.Be objective when considering whether any such differences actually expose your child to a risk of either physical or emotional harm.

3.Things to Consider For an Initial Custody Determination.

If this will be the initial determination of the custody arrangements for your child after a divorce, then you have a stronger footing.Gone are the days when the courts would automatically award custody of children to the mother.Today, the court is going to be fair and take into consideration which parent can offer the best home environment for the children.

Again, the court is going to consider the best interests of the child and, in most cases, is going to favor allowing the child to remain in a familiar environment, rather than subjecting the child to tremendous change.Generally, if a child is age 12 or over, the court will also give the desires of the child a great deal of weight.

If you believe it is in your child's best interest to reside with you, then you need to convince the court that this is the case.You will need to demonstrate to the court that you can provide a safe and loving home for the child.You also need to demonstrate that the child will enjoy a comfortable lifestyle with you, including a comfortable bedroom of his or her own and ample room for his or her belongings.You will have to demonstrate to the court that you will be available to your child as much as possible.If you work outside the home, you will have to demonstrate to the court that suitable child care arrangements are in place for your child and that your child will be well taken care of in your absence.You will have to show the court that you have considered your child's educational and social needs, including schools, the availability of activities that the child enjoys, and social outlets for the child in the form of neighborhood friends or playmates.

Remember first and foremost to consider your child's needs.Think in the positive, rather than in the negative.In other words, rather than approaching it from the viewpoint of demonstrating to the court why your ex-spouse is an unfit parent or cannot provide for your child, your main focus should be to demonstrate to the court why your child would be better off living with you.Although of course there are times when it is appropriate to point out deficiencies in the ability of the other parent to provide for the child, bad-mouthing your spouse in general is not going to make the court look favorably on you.Keep focused as much as possible on why you make the better choice for custodial parent, sticking to facts and avoiding accusations and speculation.

4.Things to Consider When Requesting a Change of Custody.

If this is a battle for change of custody, be aware that you have your work cut out for you.Courts are extremely reluctant to uproot a child from a familiar environment without a strong showing that to do so is in the best interests of the child.If the best you can do is show that you are as capable of providing a comfortable home for your child as your former spouse, then it is very unlikely the court will order a change of custody.The court's main interest is in providing the child with stability and continuity.

To obtain a change of custody, you are going to have to demonstrate a strong basis for the court to make such a change.In general, you will have to show either that urgent circumstances exist necessitating a change of custody, or that the child is not faring well in his or her present environment over a significant period of time.

The court will often look seriously at a proposed change in custody where, for example, the current custodial parent is proposing a change of residence for the child.Under those circumstances, the court will consider whether the proposed move might be detrimental to the child and whether the move will interfere with the child's relationship with the non-custodial parent.

Other circumstances under which the court may consider a change in custody include where the child has issues with another person, for example, a step-parent, or where a child has developed a combative relationship with the custodial parent.The court might consider, for example, that the child's education is suffering and that the child is not doing well in school over an extended period.One bad report card is not, generally speaking, going to warrant a change in custody.If your child is depressed or unhappy in his present environment, this may also be a factor the courts will consider.

Finally, with an older child, the court may consider a child's desire to reside with his or her non-custodial parent to be a changed circumstance justifying a change in custody.As children mature, it may be increasingly beneficial for them to reside, for example, with the same-sex parent.It is not always in the child's best interest to remain with one parent for his entire upbringing and, under certain circumstances, a change in custody may be beneficial for the child, even where circumstances may not legally warrant such a change.As a parent, it is important to be aware of your child's changing needs and to be flexible in meeting those needs.While it may be extremely difficult for a long-time custodial parent to agree to changed custody, it is particularly important to remain open to the idea of such a change where it will be in your child's best interest.

5.Be a Gracious Winner . . . Or Loser.

Once the court has made a determination regarding custody arrangements for your child, it is important to respect that determination.Understand that the determination was made after considering many factors, including evidence offered by both parties, the best interests of the child, the wishes of the child and often reports by outside evaluators, such as a mediator or the department of social services or child welfare.Your job as a parent is to accept the court's decision and to make the very best of the circumstances you have before you.

If you have been awarded custody, remember that it is almost always in the child's best interest to have a great deal of contact with both parents.Make sure that you do everything in your power to facilitate opportunities for your child to have continued, regular contact with his or her other parent.Remember that you and your former spouse are still in the business of raising your child together.If possible, continue cordial contact with your ex-spouse and work together to give your child the best life possible.Continue to keep any comments regarding your ex-spouse either positive or to yourself.

If you are not awarded custody, make sure there is ample provision for visitation and that you exercise that right of visitation with your child at every opportunity.Do not, under any circumstance, be a sore loser and walk away from your child because things did not go your way. Remain available to your child at all times.As a non-custodial parent, you face a more difficult challenge.But with hard work and commitment, you can be just as much a part of your child's life as you were prior to the divorce, or perhaps even more.

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