Unfortunately, child custody battles are often part of bitter divorces. If you
and your spouse can't reach an agreement about custody, you need to
prepare yourself in the event that your custody case goes to trial.

Today, it can no longer be assumed that the mother will get custody of the
kids. Instead, what judges consider during a custody trial is based on the
"best interests of the youngster", and they try to give custody to the mom or dad who will provide
the best environment and upbringing for the kids.

To win your child custody case, you will need to prove to the court that it is in the best interest of
the kids to be with you. In preparing for a custody case, be aware that your parenting skills and daily
interactions with your kids will be thoroughly inspected by a judge. Just telling the court that you are
a good mom or dad won't be enough. You need provide documentation and testimony from
witnesses to back up your parental capabilities.

Keeping detailed, consistent records is critically important in child custody battles. You need to be
prepared to show the court that you have gone out of your way to nurture and care for your kids.
Because there is so much at stake, you also need to document any short-comings of your spouse
that would be relevant to the custody case.

There are a number of ways that you can prove that you are a better mom or dad. Below are some
ideas:

•        Attend all school activities, such as parent-teacher meetings, assemblies, school plays,
and musicals. Try to interact with your youngster's teacher and office support staff in an ongoing
manner. Keep record of all the activities that you attend.

•        Be the mom or dad who takes your youngster to the doctor and dentist. This will help
support that you are a nurturing mom or dad, plus provide witnesses that will testify that you
are the mom or dad who brought the kids in most often.

•        Foster your youngster's involvement in church and family activities. This will help prove that
you are providing for your youngster's moral upbringing.

•        Get witnesses who have observed you interact with your youngster over a long period of
time to support that you are a good mom or dad. This includes relatives, teachers, doctors, child-
care workers, neighbors, and friends.

•        Record activities with your kids on a daily basis to help show that you are heavily involved in
your kid's life on a continuing basis.

•        Take your kids on vacations and outings to show that you spend quality time with your kids.
If possible take pictures and keep mementos for extra documentation.

While you need to emphasize that you are a good mom or dad, you may also need to document
the poor performance of your spouse with your kids. Documentation on your spouse might include:  

•  Activities that might endanger or could be detrimental to the youngster
•  Any comments the kids have made about neglectful, inappropriate, alienating or abusive forms
of parenting by the other parent
•  Cohabitating or exposing the kids to over-night stays with a significant other
•  DWI convictions, jail time, or proof of drug use
•  Evidence of an overwhelming work schedule that restricts interaction with the kids
•  Evidence of mental illness
•  Incidences of domestic violence, such as police records, photos of bruises, etc.
•  Interference with custody, visitation times, or failure to pay temporary support for the kids

As you can see, keeping detailed, consistent records is critically important in child custody battles.
It allows you to pinpoint patterns of interactions or problems that would be important to the judge.

Lots of moms and dads want to know how they can "win" custody. First of all, no one wins in a
custody case, especially not the youngster. The best custody arrangement is one that takes the
youngster's needs into consideration and creates a plan that allows the youngster to have a lot
of time with both parents through a non-hectic, reasonable schedule. That being said, there can
sometimes be a lot of dissent over who should be the residential mom or dad (the parent the
youngster spends the most time with) and you will want to make sure your point of view is heard
and understood by the court.

Legal Considerations—

If you are in a position where you are trying to convince the court that your
youngster should live with you, you should know that the judge will make this
decision based upon what is in the best interest of the youngster. What you
or your ex wants doesn't matter - what will work best for your youngster is
the primary consideration. The court looks at all of the circumstances involved in the case. Mothers
do not have an edge over fathers. Sexual orientation does not matter. The judge will look at
everything involved that impacts the youngster, including the past parenting history, the parents'
schedules, living arrangements, the youngster's abilities and needs, child care arrangements, and
anything else that affects the youngster.

What You Can Do—

First and foremost it is important that you are honest throughout the case. Lies are usually caught.
Your job is to show the judge why you are more equipped to have your youngster live with you.
This means showcasing what's great about your situation and also making clear what the problems
are with the other parent's situation. It does not mean you should do a hatchet job on the other
parent. However, you do need to gather evidence that will let the court see what your concerns are
about the other parent.

How to Gather Evidence—

Custody cases turn on evidence. It is not enough to testify and tell the court what a bad parent
your ex is. The court needs to see proof of this. One of the best ways to gather evidence is to
keep a journal.

• Describe situations with the other parent that concern you.
• Document how much time you each spend with your youngster.
• Document visitation disputes or times your youngster is returned to you late.
• Gather together photos you can present to the court that depicts your youngster with you.
• Keep track of all the activities you do with your youngster yourself.
• Make a list of the daily things you do to keep your youngster healthy and happy.
• Write down information about times your youngster returns to you dirty, hungry, tired, injured
or otherwise unhappy.

If you are considering audio or video taping your spouse without his or her consent, talk with your
attorney to find out what the laws are regarding this in your state. In some states it is permissible,
but not in others. Answering machine or voicemail messages are acceptable because the person
knows he is being taped.

Find Witnesses—

Your word alone is not enough. You should find family, friends, neighbors, teachers,
doctors and anyone else with personal knowledge about your family who can testify
about what a great job you do and what the problems are with your ex. Remember
that witnesses can only testify about information they have learned firsthand. For
example, your neighbor can testify about seeing your ex hit your daughter, but he
cannot testify about it if you only told him about it and he did not see it happen.
Teachers and doctors likely will need to be subpoenaed, so talk to your attorney
(if you don't have one, talk to the court clerk about how to get a subpoena issued). They can offer
information about the youngster's special needs and abilities, as well as about which mom or dad
has been primarily involved at school or medical appointments.

Your Youngster's Opinion—

Your youngster's opinion about custody matters, but is not decisive. In most cases, a Law Guardian
or Guardian ad litem will be appointed to represent your youngster and find out what his point of
view is. Your youngster may be interviewed by the judge in private as well. Don't coach your
youngster or tell him what to say. Do not make promises to him or offer him rewards if he tells the
judge or guardian he wants to live with you. It is almost guaranteed he will share this deal with the
judge or guardian.

Support Visitation—

When you are in the midst of a big fight over where your youngster should live, it can be tempting
to try to limit the other parent's visitation or time with your youngster as a way to strike back or
insert some distance. This is a very bad idea. Interference with visitation is custodial interference
and can be grounds for a complete reversal of custody. A good custodial mom or dad is one who
supports and encourages visitation. Kids need both parents and a parent who sees and
understands that will gain a lot of points with the court.

Keep Things in Perspective—

Although you hope the court will see things your way, a custody case should not be a fight to the
death. Once it's over, you and your ex will have to continue to see and talk to each other so that
you can parent together. Your youngster will always be your kid no matter how the schedule is
arranged. You need to be able to accept whatever the decision is and move forward to a place
where you can parent together.

More Tips—

•        Allow your attorney to do all the talking
in court. That is why you are paying him or her
remember?

•        Ask your attorney lots of questions when
you are preparing for the trial. Do not ask
questions when you are in court unless they are
very important or the attorney has made a factual
error about something important.

•        Be polite and pleasant to your spouse and
do not interfere with the other parent's relationship
with the youngster. You do not want to be the one
to start an argument. You need to make sure the
other parent sees the youngster (unless there is a
danger of abuse - then talk to your attorney). Not allowing this is called custodial interference and
may cause the court to decide you are not a fit mom or dad.

•        Be truthful. When you testify it is imperative that you tell the truth, not only because of the
risk of perjury, but because if your untruthfulness is discovered, you will look like a liar and lying is
a trait courts dislike.

•        Document everything. Keep a log of visitation. Keep a log of what you do when with your
youngster. Write down any problems you have with the other parent. Keep track of the money you
spend on the youngster, the places you take the youngster, and the quiet at-home time you spend
with the youngster. Make record-keeping your second job. You want to be able to prove to the
court that you are the best mom or dad and that the other parent is not as good as you. Your
word on this is not enough.

•        Get to court on time and dress appropriately.

•        If you have an attorney and feel that he or she is not listening to your concerns and is not
working hard enough, express your concerns. You may be able to work out the problem. If you feel
your concerns are still not being met, find someone else immediately.

•        Know that there are cases that cannot be settled, either because of abuse or neglect or
simply due to extreme personalities.

•        Listen to your attorney. Do every single thing he or she tells you to do, even if it causes you
inconvenience or discomfort. Your attorney has had years of experience dealing with situations like
yours and knows what to do.

•        Never argue in front of the youngster. Do not speak poorly of the other parent in front of
the youngster.

•        Pay your attorney. If you do not pay your attorney, he or she may ask to be removed from
the case. Even if the judge does not allow this, the attorney will complete your case with a lack of
enthusiasm.

•        Prepare for testifying. Ask your attorney to spend some time with you helping you feel
comfortable with the procedures and types of questions.

•        Realize that if you have one of those cases, you need to find a good family law attorney.
You may have to pay more than you'd like, but it is necessary.

•        Remain calm at all times and remember that your lawyer is the expert and you must trust
him or her.

•        Remember that more money does not mean better parenting. Don't shower your youngster
with gifts. This will not make the court happy.

•        Talk to family, friends, daycare workers, teachers, or anyone who has knowledge about your
relationship with the youngster or the other parent's relationship. Ask them to testify about what
they know and explain why their knowledge is important.

•        Tell your attorney everything, even your secrets that you want no one to know. Be sure
to tell your attorney all of the facts about the other parent. Leave nothing out and do not make
anything up. Your attorney has to have all of the facts to achieve the outcome you want.

•        Try to be a good mom or dad no matter what. This is what matters the most. You do not
need to put your life on hold. Being a good mom or dad means being balanced and well-rounded.

•        Understand that most custody cases can and should be settled through negotiation and
mediation. Contact the Academy of Family Mediators for the name of a mediator in your area who
can help you reach a settlement. When cases are settled, kids tend to be able to cope better and
there are fewer returns to court later to try to make changes to the custody situation.
How to Win a Child Custody Battle