In resolving child custody cases, it is often beneficial for parents to create a lasting, written record of the interactions between the other parent, the children, and themselves.
Why Documentation Is Important
Custody proceedings begin with written submissions to the court outlining your position and clearly stating what you are asking the court to order. If you are acting without an attorney, it is usually a good idea to include copies of any documentation you gather as supporting proof of your arguments when you make your written submission.
When to Begin Documentation
There are some situations that trigger or signal to you that you should start documenting occurrences. For example, when the other parent is inconsistent regarding your pre-arranged visitation schedule, keep a calendar and note times and instances.
If you notice a negative pattern in your children’s behavior or emotions following time spent with the other parent, you might want to write down what the behaviors or emotions were, followed by the dates, and any information you can gather about the child's thoughts or feelings. Similarly, if you are concerned about your child's physical well-being while in the care of the other parent, note your observations with dates and details.
In the event the other parent is threatening legal action against you, you should immediately begin to document your conversations.
How to Record Documentation
The easiest way to record documentation is to get a dedicated notebook or create a computer document to record each interaction.
You can use a spiral notebook, a dated appointment calendar, create a document on your computer, or use an application on your mobile device.
Always record the following:
- Topics discussed
- Duration of the phone call or visit
- Whether the interaction was spontaneous or part of your pre-arranged visitation schedule
For example, if your ex-wife was supposed to pick your daughter up at 3:00 p.m. for a visit, but never showed up or called to explain why, you should make a note of that, in ink, on your appointment calendar.
Regarding audio recording of telephone calls or video recordings of meetings, some states require that the other party is made aware that he or she is being recorded at the time of the recording. It is important to know the laws of your state. Some jurisdictions do not allow you to record conversations, and doing so can cause you—or your case—more harm than good.
Keep consistent, daily records. Do not wait until several days or weeks have passed. It can make it more difficult for you to remember specific dates, times, and details. You do not want incomplete records that might call into question your record-keeping abilities.
In your notes, make sure that your tone is not negative or accusatory. Instead, use your appointment calendar to state indisputable facts.
If you have a lawyer, discuss your plans. Ask your legal advisor if they have specific additional instructions regarding how to handle documentation in your child custody case.