In Virginia, “child custody” means the legal responsibility for the care and control of a child who is under 18.
If you are fighting for custody of your children, you’ll want to convince the judge that it’s in the best interest of your children for you to make legal decisions on their behalf.
Further, you’ll want to show that living with you will give them the best quality of life.
In this article, we’ll cover eight helpful tips which will help you meet both of these goals in your child custody case.
1) Document Everything Relevant to Your Case
Sometimes it’s hard to know which documents and records are relevant in court and which ones aren’t.
Your attorney will help you sift through this information, but there are a few specific things they’ll look for that you should document:
Save text messages you receive from the other parent.
This especially applies to messages that show unkind language, broken promises, or threats that can be important to your case.
Also, keep a record of phone calls and texts between your child and the other parent.
How often do they communicate? Who initiates calls, texts, or Facetime sessions? How long do they talk and how often?
This can be an indication of how close your child is to the other parent.
Diary of Day-to-Day Interactions
Keep a diary of interactions and conversations the other parent has with you and with your child, especially negative ones.
Some of these details can come in handy in court.
A Schedule of Visits (or Lack of Visits)
Keep a log of visits between your child and the other parent. Take note of how often they visit and for how long.
If the other parent only sees your child every few weeks, or only on special occasions, you can show that they are only interested in winning the case, not in maintaining a close relationship with their child.
Records of Care for Your Child
Show documentation of things you have done which benefit your child while they’ve been in your care.
This could be doctor visits, therapy appointments, or parent/teacher conferences.
Even report cards or pictures with the child at important school functions can help show that you’re actively participating in your child’s life.
This information can help show the court that your children thrives when they’re with you.
Make the judge see that you will use all the resources available to you to benefit your child.
2) Be Polite to the Judge
The ultimate purpose of the judge in your case is to figure out how to best meet the needs of your child.
For this reason, they might ask you sensitive or provoking questions during the process.
You need to keep in mind that while the judge is a neutral party in the matter, disrespecting them will only harm your case.
Make sure to keep your emotions in check and follow proper courtroom etiquette.
Remember, this is the person that will have the final say about what happens in your custody case.
3) Avoid Personal Attacks and Unnecessary Arguments
As an extension of the previous tip, you should take care to avoid personal attacks and unnecessary arguments while you’re in the courtroom.
Remember, the judge is deciding which parent should have custody of your child.
If you personally attack the other parent, or argue with them in front of your child, the judge may question your maturity and judgement as a parent.
4) Obey all Court Orders
Whether you agree with them or not, you must follow all court orders. If you don’t, you may face legal issues in your custody battle.
Even if you feel that the court order is unjust, or that the other parent misled the court, you still need to follow the order.
Failing to do so is a risk that could potentially backfire in your custody case.
If you truly feel that your child isn’t safe with the other parent, contact the police or child protective services.
5) Understand the Role of the Guardian Ad Litem
A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is a court-appointed attorney who will represent your child in the custody battle.
Just like how you will hopefully have an attorney who looks after your interests in the custody case, the court will assign an attorney to look after your child’s interests and make recommendations to the judge.
In this way, you should take care to note that the GAL is only interested in your child’s best interest, not yours.
For this reason, make sure you:
- Avoid arguing with the Guardian Ad Litem.
- Don’t treat the Guardian Ad Litem as if they are your lawyer.
Just like the judge, the GAL is primarily concerned with the well-being of the child.
Arguing with them, fighting with the other parent in front of them, or, worse, assuming they will look after your interests are all bad ideas.
6) Avoid Frivolous Lawsuits and Unneeded Protective Orders
Some parents are tempted to file a protective order against the other parent to “get back” at them.
It’s common in custody fights for a parent to file a protective order just to waffle on it later (“now I want one, now I don’t”).
These actions waste the time of the court and are generally frowned upon by judges.
Most importantly, they harm your child emotionally, and this may be reflected on the GAL’s report.
Especially in cases where custody is involved, you should always speak with a lawyer before filing for a protective order or challenging the other parent with a lawsuit.
7) Remember that Your Custody Fight can Affect Divorce Proceedings
If you’re also going through a divorce, anything said or submitted in one court might be admissible in the other.
Don’t do or say anything in your custody hearing that you wouldn’t want your spouse to bring up in divorce court.
Similarly, if your spouse does or says something in divorce court that you feel could help your custody battle, make sure to mention it to your lawyer.
8) Choose the Right Person to Represent You
Look for an attorney who understands family law, and specifically knows how to deal with custody cases in Virginia.
An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the details of your custody battle and give you the best chance of success in your case.
If you are currently engaged in a custody battle, there’s no doubt your time in court will be emotional and even painful.
When preparing for your day in court, you should take care to keep each of these 8 tips in mind so that you can make an effective use of your time in front of the judge.