When I evaluate a child custody case in which the residence of the children is in dispute, I often ask a question most judges will ask, “Why is it in the best interest of the children to live with you on a day-to-day basis?” Unfortunately, the gut reaction for many people is to go negative and list the reasons why the other parent isn’t well suited. They tell of irresponsible behavior, working long hours, or sometimes allegations of substance abuse come up. While all of these are legitimate concerns, there is a far better way to approach this issue.
I always recommend that clients talk about the children first and foremost, and then explain how they can best help the children with the particular issue being discussed.
For example, a very common negative statement may be framed this way: “My husband never helps the children with their homework.” Instead, I would recommend tackling this issue in a far more child-centric positive manner. “I really want my children to do the best they can in school. They have quite a bit of homework, and they often need extra help. I have always been very involved with the kids’ education and help them with their homework every single night.”
While it may be satisfying short-term to attack your spouse on these sorts of issues, taking the high road and explaining to the judge precisely how you are in the best position to care for the children is the most effective means of persuading the judge to see things your way. In addition, the more positive statement gives a clear picture of what sort of support the children can expect to receive in your custody. The first statement only tears down the other parent without giving any insight into your parenting abilities.
A couple of other issues courts frequently look toward in child custody matters:
- Who generally cared for the day to day needs of the children during the marriage/relationship (e.g., feeding, clothing, bathing, etc.)?
- Who generally interacted with the teacher/doctor/dentist/therapist for the children?
- Who was usually responsible for taking the children to school and extracurricular activities?
- Who has a more flexible work schedule? Parents who work nontraditional hours or long hours will generally be at a disadvantage to a parent who works a typical work week and/or has significant flexibility with when and where they work.
Each judge is going to have a slightly different philosophy, but generally, the court wants to ensure that the parent caring for the children on a regular basis has the skills and temperament to handle that responsibility. A good track record during the marriage/relationship is a good start. In addition, the court wants to be confident in that parent’s ability to communicate with the other parent in a manner that keeps the best interests of the children in the forefront. Therefore, it is always best to keep that in mind when trying to distinguish yourself in a child custody proceeding.