In California child custody disputes, family courts are ultimately concerned with one thing: determining the best interest of the child. That means the court is tasked by the law to make its best decision about what custody arrangement would be best for your child if you and your co-parent can’t agree.
How to Win a Child Custody Case in California – A Step-by-Step Guide to Get Custody of Your Child for Mothers and Fathers
Knowing the court is going to make a decision regarding who your child lives with and how often you see your child, it is important to understand what behaviors judges look for in a “good” parent.
Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts of child custody, so that you can have a better chance of putting your best foot forward in your child custody case:
What to Do to Win Child Custody in CA [Child Custody Do’s for Fathers and Mothers]
When it comes to winning custody, you need to make sure that you demonstrate a willingness to work with your co-parent while also demonstrating that your children would benefit from you having custody. Here is an overview of the things that will improve your chances of winning custody.
- Stay active with your child’s education, regardless of where your child is currently staying during the school week. Attend all parent/teacher conferences, and stay in contact with your child’s teachers. Be proactive about addressing issues your child may be having in school and attend all of your child’s extracurricular activities.
- Be prompt and on time for your time with your child. If you are court-ordered or have agreed to pick up your child or visit him or her at a specific time, always arrive on time. If your co-parent doesn’t show up for visitation or arrives late, tell your child that you are sure something came up that couldn’t be avoided and assure them that their other parent still loves them.
- Work with your co-parent. When trying to win custody, it is important to show a willingness to work with your co-parent. This is essentially just basic co-parenting, but parents can actually lose child custody because of their demonstrated unwillingness to collaborate with the other parent. You need to show the family court that you are willing to work together for the benefit of your child, even if you don’t like each other.
- Make sure that your “visitation” time remains parenting time. If you only see your child every other weekend, it can be easy to spend all of your time with them doing fun things, eating junk food, and doing all of the things that make your child happy. Try not to become so focused on making your child happy during your parenting time that you forfeit your duty to be their parent. There should still be set rules, consequences, bed times, and hygiene standards. Make sure that you are doing regular, everyday things—including homework and chores—and not just the fun things during your parenting time. Demonstrate that you are willing to do the less than glamorous parenting as well. Otherwise, you are really more of a fun babysitter than a parent anyway.
- Make your home their home. Make sure your child has clothes, toiletries, toys, and bedding at your home so they aren’t living out of a suitcase, lugging their belongings back and forth. Ideally, provide your child with a separate space (a room or portion of a room), so that he or she feels at home in both places they live. If you share custody of an infant, make sure to have all of the supplies the baby needs at your home and don’t rely on your co-parent to provide everything to you each time.
- Exercise your parental rights. Make sure you exercise your parental rights, especially if you’ve been granted visitation rights with your child. Spend as much time with them as you can. If you aren’t even exercising the time you have now, the court will not give you more if you try to modify child custody.
- Respect your co-parent. Let your co-parent know about changes in your schedule, travel plans, plans to relocate, and when your child’s stepparent will be doing a custody exchange. Also, let your co-parent know if a new babysitter or romantic interest will be with your child while they are with you. Communicate where you will be while you have the child and decide together how emergencies should be handled.
- Always share medical information & appointments with the other parent, even if it seems minor. If the child does have to go to a doctor, provide the other parent with the date and time of the appointment. If you are the custodial parent, ask up front if there are days & times that are better for the non-custodial parent to arrange for medical appointments. Assure the other parent that in the future you will do the best you can schedule appointments for that time.
- Support your co-parent’s relationship with your child. If the other parent comes by to pick up the child for visitation and the child doesn’t want to go or is hesitant to go, assure them that they will have fun, it is important that they spend time with their other parent, and that you want them to enjoy this time with their other parent.
- Consider other reasonable explanations and normal phases of childhood development before blaming your co-parent. If your child is suddenly acting up at the age of 14, this may be due to normal adolescent behavior, and not the direct influence of your co-parent. Children will react to new situations differently and independently move through the stages of their lives in their own way. Don’t be too quick to place blame on your co-parent for natural changes in your child. Instead, use this as an opportunity to relay these new concerns and communicate with your co-parent.
- Keep documentation. In situations where you honestly believe your child is unsafe with the other parent—for example, because your ex has a history of domestic abuse—you should carefully document your interactions with your co-parent. Be aware that the other parent may feel the same way about you and may be preparing similar documentation for the courts. Make sure that all verbal and written communication to the other parent is relevant to your child, and remember, anything you put in writing can and will show up in court. If you send it, the judge may read it. Ask yourself before you hit send: Is what I am saying in this email or text really how I want the judge to see me? If the answer isn’t a resounding ‘YES’, delete it.
- Make a good impression in court and in child custody mediation. One of the hardest things to grasp in a custody battle is the fact that it doesn’t really matter if what is being said about you is true or not; what matters is whether the court believes these things are true. Do everything you can to present yourself to the court as a competent, involved, and loving parent. This includes arriving on time, dressing for court, and demonstrating proper courtroom etiquette in front of the judge. If you can’t even keep it together when a judge or mediator is watching, it is not likely you can keep it together when you are alone with your child.
What Not to Do if You Want Custody of a Child in California [Child Custody Don’ts for Mothers and Fathers]
Winning custody of a child is not always an easy task, especially because most courts prefer some form of shared or joint custody. Unfortunately, parents can sabotage their chances of winning custody if they are not careful. Here is an overview of things you should avoid doing while trying to win custody.
- Never talk (or let someone else talk) about visitation with or in front of the child. It is not your child’s job or responsibility to create their own schedule. You may think you are empowering your child and making them feel special, but you are actually putting them in an unfair position. It is best that you not allow your children to arrange their own visitations. It is the responsibility of the parents to make sure each child is allotted an equal amount of time to spend with each parent. Don’t pawn off this task on your child. You are raising them, they are not raising themselves.
- Never talk (or let someone else talk) about child support with or in front of the child. Consequently, never let whether or not your co-parent has paid their monthly child support payment determine whether or not they get to spend time with their child.
- Never complain about money in front of the child. If your child needs or wants something that you cannot afford, call the other parent and talk about how to purchase it if you think it is important. Additionally, as strong as your desire is to give everything you can to your child, they don’t need everything. It’s okay for children to go without things and it does not reflect badly upon you as a parent. In fact, teaching your children that material things are not so important is a good lesson for them to learn.
- Don’t chagrin the other parent buying something for your child. Be happy that your child got something that made them happy or excited, don’t be jealous that it came from the other parent. Remember, children are smart and getting them things does not buy their love, it buys their attention.
- Never talk (or let someone else talk) about court in front of the child. It can be tempting to share the details of the case with your children, but it’s important to let them be children right now and not place the burden of adult issues on their shoulders.
- Never talk (or let someone else talk) badly about the parent to or in front of the child. As hard as it might be, don’t talk negatively about your co-parent—especially to your child. Ever. Instead, try to keep your opinions and feelings about your co-parent to yourself. Even if your child asks you difficult questions, try to keep it positive if you can. Whatever your feelings about your co-parent, your child loves him or her, and you are only hurting your child when you talk about their other parent in a negative way. You are also making it easier to prove that you are engaging in parental alienation.
- Don’t let your child create or pull you into unnecessary disagreements with your co-parent. Especially as children grow older, they will try to use you and your co-parent to get what they want. This isn’t a sign that your child is manipulative and conniving, it is a sign of intelligence and normality. All children do this whether their parents live together or not. It is your job to see through their attempts to use you and your co-parent. If one parent tells the child “no” to something, don’t let the child put you in the middle. It is best to encourage the child to resolve any problems or issues with that specific parent and try not to interfere with that. Supporting and reinforcing your co-parent’s parental authority will not only benefit your co-parenting relationship, it will benefit your child in the long run.
- Don’t turn your child into an emotional mule. Don’t ask your child to carry messages to your co-parent, don’t ask them to spy, and don’t subject them to questions about every detail of time spent away with the other parent. The more they are able to enjoy their time as children, with few adult worries, the better. It is also fairly common for children to say what they think a parent wants to hear, whether it is true or not. They are seeking love and approval, and want to feel like they “passed” your quiz when you question them about their time with the other parent. For this reason, the information you gain from these questions is not even reliable, so it is best not to engage in the questioning at all.
- Don’t take your child’s side in disagreements with the other parent. Let your child know they need to resolve problems with their other parent independently and don’t let them pull you into the middle of a dispute — unless you believe they are in danger. Remind your child that you and your co-parent are on the same team whenever possible and try to present a united front in disciplining your child. Feel free to say things like, “Mommy is in charge at her house and I am in charge at my house” or “I understand that Mommy lets you do that at her house. You are not allowed to do it here. Every house has different rules and you are expected to follow those rules.” Don’t feel like you have to get into a discussion with your child about whether your co-parent’s actions or decisions are good or bad. You need to make it clear to your child that you support your co-parent’s parenting.
- Don’t arrive late for visits or exchanges. Little things like showing up late can be used to create a negative impression of your commitment as a parent in court. For this reason, you need to be on time when you have to pick up your child or have a visit with them. Arriving on time also communicates to your child that they are a priority to you. If you have a hard time being anywhere on time, just picture your child sitting by the window feeling rejected and anxious waiting for you, wondering if perhaps you will not come. That should be motivation enough to leave a bit earlier so that you can be on time.
- Don’t reschedule your parenting time with your child. If you want to “win” custody, don’t make a habit of rescheduling time with your child. Repeatedly rescheduling your parenting time could make it appear to the court that your schedule is more important than your parenting time or your child’s time. Make sure you are there when you say you will be so that your co-parent can’t present a documented pattern to the court that reflects negatively on you. Plus, creating an emotional rollercoaster for your child by getting their hopes up and routinely dashing them because of your schedule is not in your child’s best interest.
How to Lose Custody of a Child in CA [Never Do These Things if You Want Custody as a Mother or Father]
There are a few missteps parents in a child custody case can make that severely threaten their chances of winning custody of their child. Here is a brief overview of some fatal errors that may cause a father or mother to lose custody of their child:
- Misuse alcohol or drugs. Don’t misuse alcohol or drugs, especially when your child is present. Aside from providing more ammunition for the other parent, making poor choices ends up hurting your child in the process. Alcohol and drug use and abuse is just something else that can be documented and used against you. Make sure there is not even the suggestion that you are doing something that would put your child at risk. Being a good parent involves making good choices that protect your child’s overall wellbeing. Plus, the family court can order drug and alcohol testing if your co-parent presents a credible argument that you are putting the child at risk with your substance use.
- Refuse to follow court orders and requests. If you want to win custody, it’s important to honor every request and order the family court makes of you. Don’t refuse to do anything the court is asking of you and don’t violate family court orders. This is your time to show how committed you are to your child. So if they require you to take parenting classes or seek counseling, do so immediately. View the court’s requests and orders as an opportunity to demonstrate just how far you’re willing to go for your child. The court is generally not inclined to modify orders in your favor, for example, giving you more visitation time, when you are not even following the orders already in place.
- Invent negative stories about your co-parent. This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised. When attempting to win custody, don’t invent negative stories about your co-parent. Never come up with unfounded allegations of abuse or exaggerate your co-parent’s shortcomings in order to win custody. Presenting the court with lies, misleading information, or incomplete information will only come back to bite you. These stories will also likely hinder your chances of winning custody. Don’t blow little things out of proportion, running to court every time your child has a hang nail or bruise spouting accusations of abuse and expect the court to find you credible when you present a legitimate issue. Make sure everything you share is factual, relevant, and can be substantiated with evidence.
- Do something illegal. This too may seem too obvious to mention, but it is important to know that parents in jail or prison don’t have custody of their children. Even further, if you are involved in a criminal case, it is not advisable to testify in family court because anything you say can and will be used against you in your criminal case. It is generally better to resolve whatever criminal matter you have, and then handle your family law matters. **Keep in mind that any plea deal or conviction involving a finding of domestic violence carries with it presumptions under Family Code 3044. Family Code 3044 essentially provides that the State of California presumes it is not in the best interest of a child for a parent against whom a finding of domestic violence has been made to have either sole custody or joint custody of a child. **If you are in this situation, it is highly advisable that you contact a skilled domestic violence lawyer to go over your options and come up with a personalized strategy for your case.**
Contact an Experienced Custody Lawyer in California
Finally, don’t feel like you have to handle this yourself. An experienced family law attorney at Talkov Law has the knowledge to help you reach a resolution of your custody and visitation legal issues. Whether reaching a child custody agreement is your goal, or you want a knowledgeable child custody lawyer to fight for you, contact the attorneys at Talkov Law for help.