How to Advance Your Child Custody Case in New York – And What Behavior Should Be Avoided
Child custody battles are among some of the most contentious court cases that exist. After a divorce or separation, emotions often run high, clouding judgment, and making it difficult for some parents to maintain composure. Unfortunately, many individuals place their custody rights (and their future relationship with their child) in jeopardy by lashing out, trying to be vindictive to an ex-partner, or by generally failing to maintain a level head.
In child custody cases, courts are always focused on answering Question Number 1 – What is in the best interests of the child? When you act in a manner that demonstrates that you are putting the interests of your child first, it can help, while acting in a manner that shows that you are disregarding your child’s interests (or putting your interests before your child’s) will hurt your custody case.
With the high-stakes of child custody hanging in the balance, it is vital to put aside negative feelings that can lead to destructive behavior and stay focused on what is essential – obtaining a positive outcome in a custody hearing. It’s important to remember that actions both inside and outside of legal proceedings can impact a child’s well-being and custody results. Thus, putting your best foot forward and demonstrating emotional stability and maturity throughout the entire process is critical.
As seasoned child custody attorneys, we regularly witness parents making avoidable mistakes that unnecessarily compromise their custody rights. If you are embroiled in an emotional divorce or separation proceedings, we urge you to read the following common missteps to learn how to avoid losing precious time with your child or children.
At Friedlander & Mosher, P.C., we use our over four decades of combined legal experience to develop child custody strategies for seeking to achieve client objectives. If you are struggling with a contentious custody fight, call our office to schedule a consultation to learn more about how we can help protect your rights!
Work with the Other Parent in Custody Matters
The well-being of a child is paramount in a child custody case. In making custody determinations, one important aspect that a court will consider is whether you are able to put your child’s welfare first, and not take your negative feelings out on the other parent when it comes to sharing custody.
As a result, even if a parent despises or has negative feelings about an ex-partner, letting those sentiments overshadow the best interests of a child is one of the most significant mistakes that a parent can make. The very short-term feeling of “winning” and getting the upper hand over the other parent will certainly be reflected in a later court hearing. Lack of communication, intentionally creating hurdles for the other parent, or failing to maintain a constructive dialogue can signal to a judge that a parent is hyper-focused on being vindictive, rather than on their child’s best interests.
Focus instead at all times on putting the welfare of your child (or children) first. It is not uncommon for situations to arise in which one parent is so emotional and irrational that outside assistance is needed to facilitate communication between the parties. In these instances, an experienced family law attorney can act as an intermediary and help navigate some of the difficulties and communication breakdowns.
Don’t Badmouth Your Child’s Other Parent
It’s easy for a parent to put down the other parent when alone with a child, especially when the child is asking why mommy or daddy is so upset. Instead of answering this question (and explaining why you’re upset), it’s better to say something neutral like “I’m having a bad day” or otherwise redirect the conversation about something that is important to the child.
In child custody cases, the best policy is to take the high road whenever possible, even when the other parent refuses to do so. Fighting or speaking disparagingly about a former spouse or partner can place a child in an emotionally compromised position. Further, children often repeat what they hear; consequently, negative comments almost always are brought up in court.
If the other parent continually badmouths you to your child, this can only bolster your case and demonstrate that you are more emotionally stable than the other parent. It is essential to keep this in mind and avoid succumbing to the temptation of engaging in similar conduct, as it can destroy this advantage.
Don’t Withhold Court-Ordered Visitation from the Other Parent or Violate Other Court Orders
Courts do not take kindly to their orders being ignored. If you are not willing to respect the court and act in an adult, responsible way, the court can interpret such behavior as reflecting negatively on your fitness for child custody.
If there is an order in place for visitation, make sure that you fully comply with such order unless an emergency develops. If you have reservations about a temporary custody order or feel that you may have difficulty complying with specific terms, it is vital to consult with an attorney and address any issues before agreeing to the terms. An experienced child custody lawyer can work with a judge and seek to address problems before they arise.
If a parent or visitation environment presents an emergent danger, then grounds for refusing to allow the child to visit may exist. For example, if an adolescent is being sexually assaulted or physically abused, reporting the conduct and blocking visitation may be the best course of action. If such a circumstance exists, the police can be contacted if there is a substantial threat to the harm of the child. However, it is important to recognize that such instances are extreme and limited; thus, an attorney should usually be consulted before attempting to violate a court-approved visitation schedule.
Don’t Air Your Dirty Laundry on Social Media
Many adults treat social media as a therapy or venting outlet, placing personal details into public view. Anything posted on social media platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter) may be brought up in court. Therefore, it is wise to exercise the best judgment when using such applications or abstain from making posts at all.
Pictures of a wild night, illegal drug or excessive alcohol use, or disparaging statements about the other parent in a child custody case can significantly damage a case. As a best practice, it is wise only to post what you would be comfortable reading or displaying to a judge in open court.
Similarly, don’t discuss personal matters that concern the child on social media. While you may feel comfortable with discussing highly personal information about your own life on social media, you should refrain from addressing personal aspects of your children’s lives on social media, such as how they are reacting to their parent’s divorce. Parents who violate the privacy of their child by engaging in such postings can easily damage their custody case.
Be on Your Best Behavior (and Avoid Being Charged with a Crime)
Parents will be under increased scrutiny during the time in which a custody determination is pending. As custody battles can quickly become highly contentious and personal, the other parent very well may be looking for instances to show that you are an unfit parent.
Are you leaving your children with a babysitter so that you can go to the nightclubs? Or are you staying home helping your children with their homework?
You should expect that your actions will be closely monitored, and that you may need to testify under oath about your recent conduct insofar as it may impact your children.
Additionally, while it is generally a good idea to not violate the law, not getting arrested is even more important while a custody hearing is ongoing. Being charged with a crime typically sends the message that a parent is unfit to have primary custody. As such, a criminal conviction (or even an arrest) can play a significant role in whether you will receive child custody.
Documentation is paramount in child custody hearings. Judges have minimal patience for he said/she said testimony; therefore, facts and hard evidence can make or break a case. It is crucial to maintain comprehensive records of dates and details throughout a custody battle. We often recommend keeping a journal and making a binder to collect key communications and pieces of evidence, including:
- Text messages
- Dated notes of every interaction with the other parent
- Dated notes of any instance in which you believe the other parent acted inappropriately or engaged in behavior that is detrimental to your child
- Recordings of conversations
- Social media posts
- Private investigation reports
- Calendars of missed visitation days or child support payments
- Medical or counseling records
Do Not Try to Represent Yourself in Court!
Child custody cases can involve mountains of paperwork, court dates, deadlines, and filings, in addition to the emotional and financial matters usually arising in the context of divorce, separation, and child custody. You likely will have more going on with trying to move forward in your life than to learn the law and how to best represent yourself in child custody.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that just because they believe they are the better parent that a court will also quickly reach this same determination. This, however, is not how the process works.
Instead, the court will take into account the law and the evidence presented in making a custody determination. The court will not know anything about your parenting skills before evidence is presented.
And, if you are not represented by legal counsel, you will be at a significant disadvantage in the courtroom if the other parent has retained legal counsel. Opposing counsel will not hesitate to take advantage of your legal inexperience or that you have chosen not to hire a lawyer. We urge you not to let this happen.
Simply stated, child custody is too important to risk letting it slip away by making an avoidable mistake. If you are involved in an emotional child custody fight, it is crucial to hire a seasoned family law attorney who can keep track of all court details and tenaciously fight to protect your custody rights. We can help ensure that your case is presented in the best possible light to the court.
Call Friedlander & Mosher Today to Schedule a Consultation with Our Experienced New York Child Custody Lawyers
At Friedlander & Mosher, P.C., we understand that child custody is a top priority, which is why we provide zealous and compassionate representation and do everything in our power to help clients obtain the best custody arrangement possible. We have experience handling all family law issues, including alimony, child custody and support, property division, and divorce. Call our office to learn how we can help you.