5 Mistakes to Avoid in Child Custody Cases
If you share children with your soon-to-be ex, it’s likely that child custody is one of the top concerns in your mind. From asset distribution to breaking the news of your divorce to friends and family, there are many stressors that accompany divorce proceedings, but few cause a parent more stress than the fate of their children.
Fortunately, the courts oversee all aspects of a divorce with the intention of establishing the final terms as fairly and justly as possible. Rest assured that the judge shares your desire to put the best interests of your children first. However, there are some things to keep in mind when preparing for a child custody case.
How Is Child Custody Determined in California?
To understand how child custody works, it's important to first understand the different forms of custody in California. There are 2 types of child custody that parents should be familiar with:
- Legal custody provides a parent with the ability to make important decisions in their child's life. This may include healthcare, education, religion, and other key details of your child’s upbringing.
- Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child lives primarily.
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody
Now that you have general knowledge of the types of child custody, the next step is understanding which arrangement is right for your family. This is decided by establishing joint custody or sole custody (also known as primary custody). Consequently, there are 4 variations of child custody that the court may grant during divorce proceedings:
- Sole legal custody. One parent retains the ability to make decisions regarding their child’s upbringing.
- Joint legal custody. Both parents get to make decisions regarding their child’s life and upbringing.
- Sole physical custody. The child will live with one parent as the primary caregiver.
- Joint physical custody. The child will alternate living with both parents.
Avoid These 5 Mistakes During a Child Custody Battle
While it’s imperative to keep in mind that both yourself and the court share the same goal of prioritizing your children’s wellbeing during and after a divorce, there are additional factors to keep in mind if you wish to obtain a favorable outcome in a child custody case. Consider avoiding the following when you find yourself locked in a child custody battle.
#1. Bashing your coparent.
Trust us, we understand entirely that you likely won’t have many glowing reviews to share about your spouse. After all, there’s a reason you’re undergoing divorce proceedings in the first place. While high emotions towards your soon-to-be ex are natural and warranted, keep in mind that they may be more harmful than helpful to you in court.
The next time you feel overwhelmed with frustration regarding something your coparent said or did (we get it—it's bound to happen), it's healthy to let yourself feel those feelings—but also a wise idea to keep them outside the courtroom. Above all else, the judge must perceive you as mature, collected, and composed.
Coparents who present themselves as willing to collaborate and effectively coparent with their partner are more likely to be seen in a favorable light when the judge examines their case. Therefore, it's in your best interests to maintain a foundation of civility and respect from start to finish during your divorce.
#2. Failing to keep records and documentation.
Even if you’re on your very best behavior, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner will mirror your efforts. In some cases, a spouse will behave irrationally, angrily, and/or inappropriately regardless of how hard you try to remain composed. While it may be tempting to lash out or give them a taste of their own medicine, it’s crucial to maintain a respectful distance and avoid stooping to their level.
Don’t worry—this doesn’t mean you should simply roll over and tolerate inappropriate behavior. The best option to confront a spouse who’s attempting to ruffle feathers isn’t to meet them head on, as this can easily escalate into a “he said, she said” situation in which the court disapproves of both spouses’ behavior. Rather, you can work to make sure your ex faces the judge’s disapproval alone by holding onto evidence and documentation, such as:
- Records of threats (written or verbal)
- Inappropriate social media posts
- Tardiness or failure to attend scheduled visitations
- Refusing to allow your court-ordered visitation
- Harming your child (such as abusive language or emotional neglect)
Hang on to those angry voicemails you wake up to each morning. Keep records of inappropriate texts and emails that contain yet another angry outburst. While your recollections are important and valid in court, evidence always speaks for itself.
If you’re not sure if a piece of evidence is helpful, hang onto it anyway and discuss it with your divorce attorney. During divorce proceedings, it’s better to be safe than sorry—and the majority of the time, every little bit helps.
#3. Refusing to cooperate with your coparent.
Although this may not be what you want to hear, under no circumstances should you fail to make an effort to cooperate with your ex.
This does not mean adhering to your spouse’s every whim (“I can’t take the kids when we discussed. Just drop them off later” or “I changed my mind. I want to see them now”). Rather, it means doing your best to follow court-ordered guidelines, refusing to stoop to levels of inappropriate behavior, and avoiding acting out of spite—as tempting as that may be.
Regardless of how strong your negative feelings are towards your coparent, it’s essential to do the best you can to maintain a cooperative relationship. That doesn’t mean that an amicable relationship is necessary; it simply means that you have to do the best you can to coexist legally and civilly while the divorce proceedings play out. For example, avoid doing the following:
- Withholding visitation from your coparent.
- Taking your child away on vacation or out-of-town without your coparent's knowledge.
- Bashing your spouse to your child or in your child’s presence.
- Trash talking your spouse on social media.
- Failing to adhere to scheduled visitations and court agreements.
Even if your spouse entirely refuses to cooperate, it’s imperative that you keep trying—because that’s what the judge is going to see when it comes time to determine your child’s future. Above all else, make it a point to prioritize your children’s wellbeing over any ill will you feel towards your coparent.
#4. Failing to hire the right divorce attorney.
While it may be tempting to cut court costs and legal fees by forgoing your right to an attorney, it’s extremely imperative to have reliable legal representation on your side during a divorce if you wish to obtain a favorable outcome in court.
Family law matters are very complex, time-consuming, and emotionally draining, making it all the more important for you to have a trusted legal advisor on your side. It's important to vet potential attorneys and hire the best fit for you and your situation. Consider interviewing candidates until you find the right lawyer to represent you. It's important to select a divorce attorney who:
- Has plenty of experience in their field.
- Will put your family first.
- Is organized and diligent.
- Understands the goals you desire.
- Is an accessible resource for you.
- Offers a stable foundation when emotions run high.
- Is capable and willing to explain legal jargon and court decisions.
- Will provide you with sound and honest legal counsel when needed.
#5. Not staying involved as a parent.
As you can imagine, the parent with frequent and positive involvement in their child's life will have an "edge" in court. After all, the judge is there to determine what is in the best interests of your child—and healthy, consistent parenting certainly ranks towards the top of the list.
Even if you weren't overly involved in your child's activities prior to the divorce (maybe your spouse handled most of the school club activities, or coaches your child's sports league) it's crucial to make your best effort to be involved now. Show up for sports games, attend school plays, host sleepovers and birthday parties—whatever it takes to be a part of your child's life.
The benefit of being an engaged parent is threefold: not only will the court witness your desire to be a healthy and active proponent in your child’s life, but your child will receive the love, attention, and support system they deserve—and you will inevitably feel fulfilled by the joy in sharing your child’s dreams, goals, and day-to-day activities.
We’re Here to Help You Put Your Children First
At Fenchel Family Law PC, we know how complex family law disputes can be. Although most parents have their children’s best interests at heart, it isn’t uncommon for divorce proceedings and child custody cases to turn ugly. We know you have enough on your plate without experiencing crippling anxiety and concern for the safety and wellbeing of your child.
That's why our skilled divorce attorneys are here to soften the blows by providing reliable legal counsel, compassionate support, and tireless advocacy on your behalf. You don't have to fight alone. It's entirely possible to take your life back post-divorce, and we're here to put the reins back in your hands.
Are you preparing for a child custody case in California? You don’t have to battle alone. Call Fenchel Family Law PC at (415) 650-1112 or contact us online to schedule your initial consultation.