Related Content: Who's Really the Better Parent in the Eyes of the Court?
Parents who hope to win child custody should first become familiar with the child custody laws in their jurisdiction and prepare to show themselves in court to be the better parent. However, it's also important to realize that the court's singular goal is the best interests of the child, which may or may not include a ruling of sole custody.
The “Better Parent” Standard
A lot of parents go into a child custody hearing with the intention of seeking sole custody. For some parents, this is because they believe that the other parent is “unfit” to raise their child. Others would prefer to have sole custody for other reasons. However, any parent hoping to win child custody should realize that there is a higher burden of proof for the parent seeking sole custody. To award sole custody, the courts have to establish one parent as the "better parent," which can be difficult to do, particularly if both parents have been involved up until this point. In addition, most judges are reluctant to prevent either parent from having a relationship with their child because the implication is that both parents, together, are best able to care for a child. As a result, any parent seeking sole custody has to prove that he or she is best able to care for a child, with or without the assistance of the other parent.
In addition, from a judge’s standpoint, parents should not be “trashing” one another during a child custody hearing. Instead, the parent seeking sole custody should focus on proving that he or she is the better parent without attacking his or her counterpart.
How to Present Yourself as the Better Parent
Parents seeking sole custody should focus on the following factors to support a sole custody petition:
- The Physical Well-Being of the Child: For example, focus on your child's routine, sleeping habits, eating schedule, and after school activities. Judges tend to notice parents who encourage a healthy lifestyle.
- The Psychological Well-Being of the Child: For example, making sure that the child has access to liberal visitation with the other parent. Judges tend to favor parents who openly support the child's the ongoing relationship with the other parent.
Sometimes neither parent is the one to win child custody. Instead, the courts fail to determine that either adult is the better parent and decide to rule in favor of joint custody, which can be joint legal custody or joint physical custody. Parents should recognize that a ruling of joint custody is not necessarily a loss. In many cases, it is actually the situation that best suits the best interests of the child. In addition, joint custody allows both parents to share equal responsibilities in the care of the child and helps facilitate a proper bond between the child and both parents.
In cases where no "better parent" is established and the courts rule in favor of joint custody, parents should work together to determine a parenting schedule. Many states actually require a written parenting plan, but even if your state does not, it can be helpful to put your intentions down on paper and work together to establish a schedule that works for everyone involved.