California family law judges try to ensure that the decisions they make are in the best interest of the children involved. In the absence of concerns such as abuse or substance use issues, when awarding full custody to one parent is best, this often means maintaining contact and relationships with both parents.
A Father’s Guide To Child Custody: Child Custody Tips for Dads
Many fathers who are seeking custody of their children quickly become discouraged because the reality is that mothers are disproportionately given primary custody of children regardless of the family’s situation. Don’t fall victim to the common misconception that fathers cannot obtain joint, primary, or even sole custody of their children.
The information in this dad’s guide to child custody can help fathers properly prepare for the realities of a child custody case.
1. Be Realistic and Honest with Yourself
It’s essential that you are honest with yourself about what you can manage on your own practically, financially, and otherwise. Being a full-time single parent and holding a full-time job can be challenging.
While full custody may be what you want, it may simply not be realistic. Think of all of the responsibilities that you juggle on a daily basis and how you will manage them while being a single parent.
Determine what you truly can and cannot do, and be clear about that with others. This will improve the likelihood that your request will be taken seriously.
Be prepared to explain how you will balance competing responsibilities.
- Can you leave work to tend to a school emergency involving your child? If not, what plans have you made to ensure that your child’s needs are met?
- Will you be there to help with homework? If not, have you made plans for your child to have someone there to help them?
- If your work involves travel, have you made plans for child care, including transportation to and from school and extracurricular activities?
These are just a few questions that need to be considered.
2. Be Actively Involved in Your Child’s Life
In addition to making sure you can take care of a child’s basic and practical needs, the court will look for evidence of a meaningful relationship.
While you may feel a strong connection with your child, the judge is looking for objective expressions of that as well.
Whether you are still living with your children and their mother or living apart, the most important thing you can do to demonstrate that the children should live with you is to be a hands-on dad who is actively involved in his children’s lives. If you are living apart from the children, make visits a priority despite any inconvenience to you. It’s imperative that your kids know you’re still as much a part of their lives now as you were when you resided with them.
- Do staff members at your child’s school know you? Have you met with them about academic progress? Do you attend parent teacher conferences and IEP meetings?
- Do you attend your children’s social, educational, religious, and other important events? (E.g., school plays, birthday parties, awards ceremonies, after-school activities, and sports events)
- Do you know who your child’s best friends are? Do you know their parents?
- Do you take your child to their medical and dental appointments?
If the court’s investigator, a child custody mediator, or a guardian ad litem (someone appointed to represent the children’s interests in a custody case) contacts any of these individuals, they may provide invaluable support in confirming your involvement with your child. What these impartial adults have to say matters.
If you are living apart from your child, keep in touch through video chats or by phone. Don’t let your child get used to living without you!
3. Pay Child Support
Even if you don’t make your court-ordered child support payment on time, you’re still entitled to the custody or visitation that the court determines is in your child’s best interest. However, failing to keep up with your payments can be interpreted as a lack of interest in raising your child. If you are struggling to make payments, you can request a modification. But you shouldn’t attempt to get full custody just to eliminate paying child support.
Even if you have no court-ordered child support obligation, keep records of whatever you pay or provide for your child’s support.
- Do you write checks to your child’s other parent?
- Do you pay all or part of the child’s daycare or school tuition?
- Have you paid other child-related expenses?
- Have you bought diapers or formula?
- Do you pay school fees?
- Have you purchased athletic equipment for your kids?
If you have an informal arrangement with your child’s other parent, maintain good records such as cancelled checks, receipts, and any other documentation that shows you have been consistently supporting your kids financially.
You also may want to consider whether or not you will request child support from the other parent if you are awarded full custody.
4. Keep Track of Visitations
Having an accurate record of your visitation schedule is an important part of trying to win child custody. Visitation records not only show how often you see your children under the current custody arrangements, but they also demonstrate your reliability and commitment to your kids.
You will be expected to demonstrate your involvement in your child’s life, so it is important to maintain your own records of your visitation schedule, parenting plan, and other ways you are involved in your child’s life.
One way to keep track of your visitations is to use a calendar or a child custody app. Look for apps that include a time and date stamp as these are considered reliable pieces of evidence in court and lend credibility to your argument.
5. Treat Your Co-Parent Respectfully
Court proceedings can be stressful, but it is important to show appropriate respect towards all involved, including the child’s other parent, the judge, and your child. Even if your child’s other parent is extremely challenging to co-parent with, do everything you can to be respectful. This includes speaking appropriately about them to your child.
The way you treat your child’s other parent may be a factor in determining child custody and a mother can lose custody of a child as easily as a father can for refusing to co-parent.
Being adversarial or rude to the other parent makes shared decision making more difficult, and is potentially damaging to parent-child relationships.
Because of this, judges are more likely to side with the parent who is not engaging in this behavior.
6. Keep the Kids Out of the Custody Fight
No matter what your child’s other parent says or does, don’t belittle your child’s mother in front of them. One important factor in virtually all custody decisions is which parent will support the child’s relationship with the other parent and whether either parent will obstruct or interfere with the child’s relationship with the other parent.
If the mother fails to comply with agreed-upon arrangements, gently remind her about your agreement. Try to set boundaries without elevating the issue to a full-blown argument. Remember: your goal is not to prevail in one or two minor skirmishes with your co-parent.
In a child custody hearing, the court needs to see that you won’t undermine your children’s relationship with their mother if you are awarded custody.