Divorce with kids is often complicated, riddled with parental disagreements and full of uncertainties. In such situations, most parents often wonder how they can prove to the family court judge that they are the better parent so that they can have sole physical custody.
Unlike what many may think, the courts won’t use the quality of your parenting skills but will look at the child’s best interest. Parents who hope to win child custody should first familiarize themselves with child custody laws in their states.
Remember that these types of cases are far more complex than joint physical custody. If your ex-spouse is trying to claim that you’re an unfit parent, talk to a divorce and child custody lawyer to show the court that you meet the ‘better parent standard.’
Legal Custody vs Physical Custody
Legal custody often refers to a parent’s right to participate in a child’s major decisions and to communicate with third party connections related to the child’s religious growth, medical care, and education. On the other hand, physical custody refers to where the child lives and this is what many people fight for when they want custody of a child.
The Courts Prefer Joint Custody
Sometimes the courts won’t give custody to either parent. Once the courts fail to determine that either adult is a better parent, they will award joint custody. This can be joint physical custody and/or joint legal custody. If the courts believe the child is better off under joint custody, you have to use a child custody lawyer to present convincing evidence that shows joint custody is not the best parenting approach at the time.
Joint custody allows for shared responsibility in the care of the child. It also helps establish a proper bond between the child and the two parents. In short, the judge will use the child’s best interests to determine custody.
Child Custody “Best Interest” Factors
The things that you may think make you seem like a better parent don’t actually matter. The court won’t consider if you are the one who cooks for the child, takes the child for shopping, or knows all his teachers. The courts will only consider the child’s well being when evaluating where the child will live as well as the responsibilities and rights of each parent.
Some factors the court considers include:
- The child’s physical and mental health
- What the child prefers
- Each parent’s schedule in relation to the time the parent spends with the child
- The ability of a parent to provide a safe, loving and stable home
- Historically, how much time each parent has spent on the child, including extracurricular activities, medical and education-related appointments.
States like Florida will look into factors like how each parent is able to protect the child from the ongoing litigation. However, the courts won’t consider the parenting styles of either of them.
Understand the “Better Parent” Standard
Many parents go into child custody hearings to seek sole custody. Some will try to prove the unfitness of the other parent to raise the child while others have their own reasons. However, it would help if you understood that there is a higher burden of proof for a parent seeking sole custody.
It may be tough to be awarded sole child custody if the two parents have been actively involved in the child’s life up to that point. Besides, a judge would be reluctant to deny one parent the chance to care for the child as family court judges know the best chance for the child is to have both parents caring for him/her. To get sole custody, you have to prove extensively, without attacking the other parent, that you can best care for the child with or without the help of the other parent.
If one parent wants sole custody, use mediation rather than litigation as you’ll need to give evidence in a court hearing. In court, an attempt to make the other parent look bad can become bad news for you, and you may even be denied custody rights.
What to Do During a Child Custody Case
Collect any information that backs up what you said in court. For instance, the poor grades of a child while living with the parent trying to get custody can be used to prove the parent is unfit. Emails, texts, voicemails can all be used to show a parent is not fit for sole custody.
Witnesses like teachers, neighbors, friends, and family members can show the fitness or unfitness of a parent. The judge will likely consider their testimonies when making a final decision.
Dress code for court
Courts maintain a very formal atmosphere. Be well dressed when attending court sessions to avoid coming off as disrespectful.
What to Avoid During a Child Custody Case
If you’re trying to prove you’re a better parent, avoid these:
Withhold parenting or visitation time
Always stick to court-ordered parenting time and any other visitation rights – unless the child is in some immediate danger that is real.
Carelessness on social media
Social media profiles may look like private accounts, but they are public and anyone can see what you post and share. Some of the stuff on your social media channels could come up in court. Do not post anything on social media that will be used against you in court or something you won’t be able to answer. For example, statements about your ex, or photos of you while intoxicated.
Deny paying child support
Ifyou cannot afford child support, pay a partial amount, and contact the court immediately to request a child support modification. Gather all supporting evidence that shows your declined income, such as termination letters, increased bills, or medical expenses, etc. These will show that you’re in trouble but not running away from your responsibilities.
Not always will a “better parent” be established. Sometimes, the courts will award joint custody and the parents must, therefore, create a working parenting schedule. Some states require a written parenting plan, but even if your state doesn’t, it is an excellent way of documenting your intentions to create a schedule that works.
The best way to navigate through child custody is through mediation. It saves you the confrontations with your ex and protects your child from the conflict that is inherent in family courts.