In recent years, as more and more mothers have entered the workforce, child custody fights between divorcing parents have become more commonplace. The outcomes of these contests are ultimately decided by a Family Court judge whose determination is based on his/her answer to the following question: “primary placement with which parent is in the best interests of the child(ren)?”
“Custody” and “placement” (sometimes called “visitation”) are often confused by the uninitiated. “Custody” has to do with decision-making on the child(ren)’s behalf on matters of health, education, and financial management. “Visitation” has to do with where the children live and when they, in accordance with the judge’s order, are and are not scheduled to be there.
The judge decides who will be primarily in charge of the child(ren)’s health, education and finances, and with whom the children will primarily live. The decision is made after the judge hears from professionals and various other observers and acquaintances who are familiar with both parents and the child(ren), as well as the dynamics of the respective family household. First among the professionals, as determined by state law, is the guardian ad litem (who may be a lawyer) or the custody evaluator (who may be a psychologist). Depending upon the state, one or another of these professionals is appointed by the court to look into the specific situation presented by each case and make a recommendation to the judge as to the “best interests of the child(ren)” in that case.
The guardian ad litem or the custody evaluator will certainly interview the child(ren) and parents in each case, and may very well interview child psychologists, teachers, coaches, neighbors and family friends as they form the professional opinion that will become the basis for their recommendation to the judge. But in tightly-fought cases the litigants do not just let the professional’s recommendation reign supreme. Typically they call their partisans to the witness stand so that the judge can hear first-hand from them. Similarly (and here’s where the fight turns ugly) they also call their opponents’ detractors, if they can persuade them to tell their unflattering stories to the judge, as well.
Issues of custody and placement can be revisited by means of special hearings any time until the youngest child reaches his/her majority (turns 18 years of age). Therefore, by knowing these specifics, any father seeking child custody should follow this series of expert advice to ensure a better chance in the proceedings and have a fair shot at winning the custody battle.
For you to succeed the children have to want to come to your house. That means your house has to be a pleasant place to be, an essential part of which is the food’s got to be good.
For you to succeed the guardian or custody evaluator must see that you are an “involved” parent. This means knowing your children’s teachers names and staying abreast of how the children are doing in their classes. As a very general rule “the system” believes that children doing well in school are adjusting well to their parents’ divorce, and that those who are floundering are struggling with their new circumstances.
Those who run late with their alimony and/or child support payments hand their ex-spouses an issue that can be used effectively against them. Judges figure it this way: “If he’s irresponsible about paying his bills on time, he’s probably irresponsible in other aspects (like parenting) of his life too.”
Judges figure it this way: the children’s interests are always paramount and that is especially so during the early stages of their parents’ divorce. Good parents give their children their undivided attention during this difficult time. It’s not possible for Dad to give his child(ren) his undivided attention when Dad’s new girlfriend is there. Thus Dad’s new girlfriend should not come around when dad is with his children.
Intel is essential to success. The best source of this intel in a family is the children. Thus the smart Dad gives his kids cell phones as early as is reasonably possible and programs into them only one number: his. Whenever anything goes wrong, Dad will know with an easy call or text.
Studies consistently show animosity between divorcing parents produces a detrimental psychological impact on their children. Guardians and custody evaluators know this. Don’t do it. If you do, you’ll get marked down to the judge big time for it.
The judge wants you to be at your sober best when you’re with the kids. If you’re not, when you least expect it something will inevitably happen that will cause someone to notice your condition … and the judge will hear of it.
If you’re fun to be around your kids will want to be around you. If your kids want to be with you, the judge will facilitate that.
It’s not good for the kid(s) to have their parents squabbling. The judge will soon see who’s starting the squabbles and if it’s you, you’ll be marked down for it.
If you send one irresponsible email, for example, or make a catty tweet, or post a risque photo on your Facebook page, you may be sure a copy of it will be sitting on the judge’s desk at your final hearing.
Being a good dad means both talking the talk and walking the walk. Everyone from the ex to the kids to the guardian to teachers, coaches, neighbors, doctors and shrinks is watching. Show them all what a good dad you are and in the process you’ll actually become a better dad than you were. The inevitable effect of that is that it’s good for you and your children, and smart dads know this. Take this expert advice to heart, and remember: if you want custody of your children, show the world and your family that you are serious about the responsibilities of fatherhood.
More expert advice about Divorce and Separation Law
Photo Credits: Father and Daughter by Flickr: Todd Ehlers; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com