For many parents, child custody is one of the most difficult aspects of the divorce process. As a general rule, the California Courts encourage both parents to play active roles in the child-rearing process, assuming both parents are kind, loving and fit to raise their children. When both parents desire to have the children most of the time, or when both parents want to petition the court for sole physical custody, a child custody case will ensue.
If the parents are both normal, happy, healthy adults who do not have a substance abuse problem or a history of domestic violence, the courts will likely lean towards a joint custody agreement. This is because the family courts feel that it’s in children’s best interests to be raised by both parents instead of one.
On the other hand, if one of the parents has a history of neglect, abandonment, child abuse, spousal abuse, substance abuse, or a criminal record, any of these issues can cause the other parent to ask the court for sole physical and legal custody of their children. In such cases, the court will weigh the situation very carefully. The courts take parental rights very seriously and do not award sole physical custody to one parent without considering the child’s best interests.
Are You Facing a Child Custody Battle?
If you expect that a child custody battle is on the horizon, there are things you can start doing right now that can help support your case. Here is our advice:
1. Document everything. We recommend documenting everything that has to do with child custody, especially during the separation phase and after the divorce. Describe your efforts to see your children, drop-off and pick-ups, and each time the other parent didn’t show or was late. Whenever there is an important witness, such as a doctor, teacher, or neighbor, document their information in case they need to be used at a later date.
2. Keep your home safe & clean. It’s important to have a safe, clean home environment for your children. Ensure they have adequate bedroom furniture and bedding, and a home that is free of hazards. When your children are with you, keep your fridge and cupboards stocked with plenty of food.
3. Don’t hire young babysitters. Don’t hire young babysitters under the age of 13 or 14 as they may be too immature to take proper care of your children. You don’t want your former spouse complaining to the court that you hired an eleven-year-old to watch your children as you went out with friends on a Saturday night. Not only does it make you look bad, it’s not safe for your kids.
4. Behave on social media. Refrain from posting pics of you drinking alcohol, wearing “clubbing clothes,” smoking or otherwise partying as these do not reflect well on you during a child custody battle. Anything “questionable” that you post on social media can and will be used against you by your ex and their attorney.
5. Date cautiously. If you begin to date, do not do it on “your nights with the kids.” You should not hire a babysitter on a Friday or Saturday night so you can go on a date. Instead, schedule all dates when your children are with the other parent. We do not recommend introducing anyone to your children until: 1) you’re officially divorced, and 2) you’re in a committed relationship and it’s been six months since you started dating. If you begin dating while you’re still married, or if you ditch your kids to spend loads of time with your new boyfriend or girlfriend, this could hurt your child custody case.
6. Consider counseling for your children. If your children are having a hard time coping with the divorce, consider having them receive professional counseling. It is possible that the family counselor will be willing to testify in court and if not, they may be willing to give their opinion to the court on the child’s needs – this can be very useful to the judge.
7. Remain active in your children’s lives. During and after a divorce, use this as an opportunity to become even more active in your children’s lives. If your schedule affords, volunteer in their class, drive them to extracurricular activities, and attend all sporting, music and dance events. It’s important to be very active in your children’s lives in every way possible.
8. Understand an older child’s wishes. While judges ultimately decide in a child custody case, judges will listen to an older, mature child’s wishes and give it consideration. If your child is 12 or 13, or older, be aware of the fact that the judge will be interested in their wishes. However, just because a 16-year-old wants to live with his dad because he’s richer or “has no rules,” it doesn’t mean the teenage boy is going to get what he wants.
9. Make healthy parenting choices. “Should I let my child have a sleepover on school nights? Probably not. “Should I let my child skip breakfast and dinner?” Nope. “Can I give my sixth grader a sip of wine or beer?” Not a good idea. “Should I tell my teen that it’s okay to smoke as long as they’re not home?” No. When it comes to parenting, you need to make healthy choices. If you let your 14-year-old daughter date a college freshman, it’s not in her best interests, and it’s not in the best interests of your child custody case.
10. Enforce reasonable curfews. If you have teens, set a reasonable curfew that a cop would give his own kids. We do not recommend letting your teenagers roll in at all hours of the night. This is viewed as irresponsible parenting.
11. Don’t leave young children home alone. If your children are under the age of 13, you should not be leaving them home alone. If you’re in the habit of leaving your eight-year-old home while you go to work, stop doing this. Young children can open the door for strangers, cause a kitchen fire, fall down the stairs, choke, drown, electrocute themselves, get hit by a car and much more. A lot can go wrong when you leave a child home alone.
12. Pick your children up on-time. Don’t drop your kids off late at school every day, or even once a week. Don’t leave your children sitting there at school for hours, waiting for you to pick them up. If you are supposed to drop off or pick up your children up for any activity or event or to see the other parent – always be on time!