Twelve “Secrets” to Getting the Custody Arrangement You Want
As a child custody attorney in New Mexico, I’ve heard it all. “Dad is always at least 20 minutes late picking up the kids.” Or “My ex won’t let me have any say in what happens to our girls.” Or, “I want 50-50 custody because it’s not fair that she should have the kids all the time.”
If a lawyer tells you that they can solve these problems instantly, run. The truth is, if you want 50-50 custody, or if you have a difficult ex who refuses to cooperate, there are powerful steps you can take to break past the impasse. Here are twekve “secrets” the most lawyers won’t tell you:
1. The Parent-Child Relationship is Paramount! The biggest mistake parents make in child custody cases is that they focus their energy on changing the other parent. You cannot teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you and annoys the pig. Take the focus off the other parent and you. Focus clearly on creating a quality loving relationship with your child.
2. All Arguments to the Court Must Be Focused on What’s in Your Child’s Best Interest. Make sure you express all your arguments for custody as child-focused “concerns” rather than attacks on the other parent. Frame everything not in the negative or what’s wrong with other parent but focus the judge’s attention on why it’s best for your children to spend more time with you or why it’s in their best interests that you be awarded primary custody. This of course will not necessarily apply in cases involving serious abuse and/or neglect.
3. Document everything! Keep a calendar and extensive notes of not only the case but the daily happenings with your child.
4. Child Custody is a Marathon, not a Sprint. Expecting the Court to fix your ex or side with you on every issue is unrealistic. Likewise expecting a quick Court date or speedy return to Court is likewise unrealistic and sets yourself up for disappointment.
5. Use the Time You Have! Many parents despair because they got a bad result in family court. Their typical knee jerk reaction is to order their lawyer to file yet another Request for Hearing, hoping that this time the judge will rule in their favor. A better strategy is to use the time you have to improve the parent-child relationship. You can do this even with supervised visitation. Remember, your children love you and want your attention and approval.
6. Learn to Compromise. The reason why you or the other parent is asking the Court to impose itself into your personal family life is because one or both of you cannot learn to compromise. Most of the time it’s best to come to some compromises with the other parent especially out-of-court agreements. This can not only save you thousands of dollars but your sanity as well. Even more importantly when you focus on what’s in your child’s best interests often times you can see past your own ego needs.
7. Be Prepared to Spend Money. Filing fees are relatively high; so are the costs of a process server and copies. All this and you will likely discover that an attorney is indispensable. Retainers are typically in the thousands of dollars and are basically deposits you pay a lawyer to represent you. Often times you will be ordered to split the costs with your ex for the guardian ad litem or custody evaluator. Bear in mind that every time a judge orders your lawyer to draft a minute order or review with opposing counsel a proposed stipulated order, the meter is running. Every time you ask your attorney to request a hearing and file another motion, fees have to be charged.
8. Learn the Law. Custody law comes from a variety of sources. Realize that Courts look to state statutes, previous rulings, federal statutes, case law, and of course their own experience and biases. It’s not your job to know and understand all of the law. Nobody really can. However, knowing the basics of the law is very important. Understanding what Courts look at and what is actually the “rules of game” will make presenting your case easier.
9. Take Photographs, Use Graphics, Tell a Story. A judge’s life is a boring one. Make the judge’s life more exciting by using photographs to tell your story. A picture is worth a thousand words.
10. Be Good. Behave. The Eyes of the World are Upon You. It sounds like plain old common sense, but when you’re stressed things happen. Be mindful of what you say in front of your children. Word gets back to judges, custody evaluators, and even law enforcement and it will be exaggerated. Always be careful at home and in public. This is no time to get a D.W.I. or Assault charge. Be careful in terms of how your new boyfriend or girlfriend acts if you have one. You are “unofficially” vicariously liable for how your new girlfriend/boyfriend acts especially in the presence of the kids.
11. Maintain a cordial professional demeanor when in Court. Do not stare at the other parent (mad dog). Never ever act disrespectful to the judge, the Court officers like the bailiff, the court reporter, or even the other attorney.
12. Retain an experienced child custody attorney. These types of cases are emotionally charged and tricky. In most cases you will benefit a hundred-fold from an attorney experienced in Family Law. Just as important find an attorney who has argued cases in the same Court as your case.