What Not To Do During a Custody Battle: 12 Tips

Knowing what not to do during a custody battle and what the judge will look for can help you prepare the best case possible. While some missteps like lying in court are obvious, you might not have considered some actions that can hurt your case.

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1. Don't lie in child custody court

What you say in court and the information you include on court forms must be true. Lying in court during a child custody case ruins your credibility.

The judge will look for the truth in each parent's claims through custody evaluations, witness testimony and other evidence presented at trial. Lying in court during a child custody case could cause a parent to lose custody or be held responsible for paying the other parent's legal fees.

2. Don't refuse to participate in the case

Since court cases are often stressful and expensive, you might feel tempted to ignore the case altogether. Yet not taking part in a custody case could cause you to miss out on time with your child.

If you don't answer the other parent's filing, the court could issue a default judgment against you. This means the other parent would get everything they asked for without any input from you.

During your case, you'll receive mailings that require a response, such as requests for documents and notices to appear in court. Ignoring these could lead to the dismissal of your case. Make sure you don't leave the city or state for an extended period as these documents are typically sent to your last known address or workplace.

3. Don't disrespect the other parent

One thing the judge will look for in a child custody case is whether a parent will encourage a relationship between their ex and the child. Disrespecting the other parent shows that you might not be capable of doing so.

Insults directed at your ex through social media, calls, texts and emails could all impact the verdict. You also shouldn't make negative comments about your ex in front of others. What you say could come to light in court through witness testimony.

4. Don't abuse alcohol or drugs

Substance abuse is a major mark against a parent in a custody battle. When you're under the influence, you can't be the parent your child needs — especially if you're dependent on that substance to get through the day. Make responsible choices to show the court you're fit to parent.

5. Don't withhold your child

Withholding your child from the other parent is unique compared to other things not to do during a custody battle because it comes with a caveat: Keeping the child away from the other parent might be your only choice if the parent presents a clear danger.

When there aren't any safety risks, denying the other parent access to the child will reflect poorly on you. Courts prefer to keep both parents involved in a child's life and want to see that you can encourage a positive relationship between your child and your ex.

6. Don't involve your child in the case

Your child may be the subject of the custody battle, but putting them in the middle will cause undue stress.

Spare them the details of the case, and turn the focus toward maintaining the routines the child is used to and spending quality time together. Distractions from what's going on in the household like extracurriculars are particularly helpful in allowing some sense of normalcy.

7. Don't bring new partners into your child's life

Bringing a new partner into your child's life is an often overlooked example of what not to do during a child custody battle. Your child will be in a fragile state during this time. A new partner could cause confusion and anger if your child assumes you're trying to replace their other parent.

If you do have a new partner, don't involve them in the case. Judges often frown upon parents who bring their partners to court because their presence could be a distraction. Outside of court, keep interactions between your partner and your ex to a minimum. Any confrontations that occur could help your ex's case.

8. Don't push for a trial without trying to compromise

Trial should be a last resort after all other attempts at a resolution have failed. Stay in charge of parenting decisions and jump-start your co-parenting relationship by negotiating a settlement with the other parent. If you find it difficult to resolve your differences with just the two of you, try an alternative dispute resolution method.

9. Don't show up to court unprepared

Preparation is key in a custody battle. You'll need to be ready to speak in front of the judge, propose a parenting plan and present solid evidence to back up your claims. If you have a lawyer, they will help you prepare.

If you represent yourself, review your state's child custody laws and rules of evidence to avoid presenting evidence that the court cannot consider. For example, in some states, recording phone conversations without the other person's permission is illegal. Illegally-obtained recordings hurt your credibility and can't be used in court.

10. Don't behave badly in the courtroom

Your behavior in the courtroom will have an impact on the final verdict. In a custody case, the judge will look at each parent's actions in the courtroom as a reflection of their character.

Don't talk out of turn or get into arguments with the other parent. Treat everyone in the courtroom and in the courthouse with respect.

11. Don't disregard court orders

Temporary orders are often part of divorce and custody cases. These orders stay in effect until the court issues final orders.

If you have court orders for child support or visitation, make sure you follow them. Not doing so shows a lack of respect for the court and that you may not be capable of following the final custody order.

Also, don't get into the habit of rescheduling time with your kids. Show up on time for pickups, and drop your child off as scheduled to show the court you can adhere to orders. Only stray from the order if absolutely necessary, and give the other parent proper notice.

12. Don't miss out on important evidence

If you hope to win a custody battle, you cannot forget to keep track of information you could use as evidence.

Any lawyer will tell you that you must document interactions with your child or the other parent before you forget the details. Do this using the Custody X Change parenting journal.

You should also print out relevant messages exchanged with the other parent. When you do this with Custody X Change messaging, you get a report that automatically highlights any hostile language.

It's also wise track your parenting expenses, which you can do with the Custody X Change expense tracker.

Regardless of the tools you use, focus on gathering organized, detailed and professional-looking evidence. This way you won't be caught without credible proof of your claims.

What do judges look for in child custody cases?

What judges look for when deciding child custody varies somewhat depending on the judge and the law where they're based. In general, judges want to see that a parent has:

  • Ability to meet the best interests of the child
  • Solid claims backed up by evidence
  • Safe and stable home environment
  • Financial security
  • Experience taking care of the child
  • Availability to care for the child
  • Dedication to maintaining the child's routine

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