14 Dos and Don'ts for Winning Child Custody

How to Present Yourself to the Courts in the Best Light

A single dad having breakfast with his son
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In your heart, you're committed to winning child custody. But do you know what you need to do—and not do—to make that happen? These dos and don'ts will help you present yourself to the courts in the best light and help you win your child custody case:

  1. Do show a willingness to work with your ex. Some parents have actually lost child custody because of their demonstrated unwillingness to collaborate with the other parent. So remember that while you may not like your ex, he or she is a part of your kids' lives, and you need to show the family court that you're willing to work together.
  1. Do exercise your parental rights. If you've been granted visitation rights with your kids, take advantage of it. Spend as much time with them as you can, and make sure that you're doing regular, everyday things—including homework and chores.
  2. Do request an in-home custody evaluation. This can be extremely helpful, especially if you're concerned that your ex will try to present a negative impression of your home life.
  3. Do be aware that perception is everything. 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 they're true. Do everything you can to present yourself to the court as a competent, involved, loving parent. This includes arriving on time, dressing for court, and demonstrating proper courtroom etiquette in front of the judge.
  4. Do teach yourself about family law. Read up on the child custody laws in your state so that you will know in advance what to expect.
  1. Do prepare documentation. In situations where you honestly believe your children would be unsafe with the other parent—for example because he or she has a history of physical abuse—you should carefully document your interactions with your ex, as well as his or her interactions with your children. Be aware, though, that the other parent may feel the same way about you and may be preparing similar documentation for the courts.
  1. Do work with an experienced child custody lawyer. Even if you don't think you can afford a lawyer, set up a free consultation to discuss your options. You can also look for free legal clinics in your area, contact a local chapter of The American Bar Association, or ask The Legal Aid Society for assistance.
  2. Don't talk about your ex negatively to your kids. In front of your kids, try to keep your opinions and feelings about your ex to yourself. Vent your frustration to a trusted friend, instead.
  3. Don't arrive late for visits or pickups. Little things like showing up late can be used to create a negative impression of your commitment.
  4. Don't make a habit of rescheduling time with your kids. Repeatedly rescheduling your parenting time could make it appear to the court that you're just filing for custody out of spite -- not because you really want custody. So make sure you're there when you say you will be so that your ex can't present a documented pattern to the court that reflects negatively on you.
  5. Don't abuse alcohol or drugs, especially when you're with your kids. Here's something else that could be documented and used against you. Make sure there's not even the suggestion that you're doing something that would put your kids at risk.
  1. Don't refuse to do anything the court is asking of you. This is your time to show the courts how committed you are. So if they require you to take parenting classes or seek counseling, do so immediately. View it as an opportunity to demonstrate just how far you're willing to go for your kids.
  2. Don't involve your children in the court case. You may be tempted to share the details of the case with your kids, but it's important to let them be kids right now and not place the burden of adult issues on their shoulders.
  3. Don't invent negative stories in an attempt to win custody. Never come up with unfounded allegations of abuse or exaggerate your ex's shortcomings in order to win custody. Any lies you present will come back and be used against you in court.