If you're in the midst of a child custody battle, you probably want the courts to see you as the better parent.
However, it's important to note that in the eyes of the law, children have the right to be raised by both parents, except in cases where contact with one or both parents is deemed unsafe. Parents who are unable to come to an agreement about child custody will often leave the decision up to the courts, hoping that the judge will see the case from their point of view. You may be in this situation if:
- The existing custody arrangement is unsatisfactory to either (or both) of you
- You and your ex cannot reach an agreeable compromise on your own
- Either of you files a formal child custody motion, either pro se or with an attorney
In such cases, it's natural to want the courts to see you as the "better parent." However, the family court judges don't view child custody decisions this way. Their objective isn't to label one of you the "good parent" and the other a "bad parent." Instead, the courts' focus is always on deciding what course of action most fully represents the best interests of the child.
As you prepare for your case, bear the following factors in mind:
- The courts generally prefer to allow both parents to actively participate in their children's lives. While you may strongly believe you're the better parent, the court wants your child to have both parents. So unless there are legitimate, documented reasons why the other parent should have limited parenting time, supervised visitation, or no visitation at all -- it's likely that the courts will grant some type of visitation or shared parenting time. This is particularly true in situations where both parents were actively involved in the child's life up until the divorce or separation.
- The courts are generally reluctant to get caught up in parenting styles and preferences. So things like creating routines, following through with appropriate consequences, and being active in your child's school -- all things that contribute to good parenting -- aren't usually explored by the courts when deciding child custody. So all the things that make you, in your mind, the better parent may not even be factors the court will look at at all.
- Anything that intentionally or unintentionally hinders your child's best interests could cause the courts to view you more critically. For example, courts generally frown upon:
- Withholding visitation or parenting time. Unless you truly believe that your child is in danger -- in which case, you should contact the police -- it’s usually best to allow scheduled visits to take place. In the event that your child is reluctant to go, speak with your ex about how to make your child feel more comfortable. For example, if Sunday night transitions are hard for your child, consider Thursday through Saturday “weekends.” And if your child is having a hard time adjusting to new step-siblings or sleeping in a new bed at the other house, talk it over together and see what can be done to reassure him and to help him feel comfortable.
- Limiting contact with the other parent. It's fine to set some parameters around phone calls and video chat sessions, but don't block them completely.
- Withholding child support. Never willfully withhold child support from your child. It you can not afford to pay the child support you owe, pay a partial amount and contact the court that issued the child support order to request a child support modification.
In closing, take time to view your actions and words through the lens of the court. Choose to do things that the judge will likely favor -- like allowing scheduled visits, encouraging phone calls on off days, and being as flexible with your ex as you'd expect him (or her) to be with you. At the same time, avoid doing things that the judge will likely frown upon, and approach your next court date with confidence and enthusiasm -- knowing that you, too, are doing what's best for your child!