Saturday, August 29, 2009

Child Custody and Parenting Skills

The Modern Woman's Divorce Guide's Fight for Legal and Physical Child Custody in Divorce has some good points about what to expect in a custody case  even if guardain ad litem's are rare here as are court evaluators or mediators.  Pay attention to this paragraph:

* Witnesses: Child custody evaluators, psychologists, doctors, your husband, other witnesses, and the judge will microscopically examine your personal life and parenting skills. Be calm and collected. Your lawyer should tell you in more detail what to expect as it pertains to your case.

The article has a very good list of things to do to prepare for a custody case which deserves close attention:

1. Evaluate your parenting. Take a look at your parenting skills from the eyes of your ex. What has he criticized you about in the past? Do you have some bad habits in parenting? How could you be a better parent? Don't beat yourself up; no parent is perfect, just take an honest look at your own parenting skills. You can be sure your ex and his lawyer will bring up anything negative that you’ve done in the past. Be prepared to defend your actions, explain how you've changed (if applicable), and point out the positive parts of your parenting skills.
2. Take inventory of your behavior. You may be a great parent and not feel like each and every action you've taken, especially outside of parenting, should be judged; but it probably will be. Spending the time to look at anything you've done that may be inappropriate or subject to negative judgment is essential. Going in knowing what to expect and having a plan to appropriately deal with each point is vital to success in your case.
It's also essential that any less than desirable behavior or activity that you are continuing to engage in cease immediately. Contested child custody cases can be brutal, with the other party bringing out anything and everything in attempts to win. Don't give them ammunition.
3. Get Honest. When you take a parenting and behavior inventory, be honest. We've all made mistakes and wish we could change a choice or two. Pretending it didn't happen will only lead to challenges in getting what you want and what you think is best for your children should it arise in court.
Once you're clear on what your ex may use against you, be completely honest about all of this with your lawyer. Don't feel embarrassed or ashamed about any of it to the point of keeping it secret. Chances are it will come out if you're in a heated custody battle; your lawyer must know what to expect ahead of time in order to defend your actions and to win your custody case. This information is normally strictly confidential and your lawyer should only use it to help you win your case.
4. Gather Evidence. Bring together concrete evidence in the form of people, experts, documents, police reports, school records, phone records, doctors' records, child protective services records, bank records, anything that will support allegations you make against your former spouse, or defend any allegations your ex spouse makes against you.
Keep this evidence organized and concise. Have a list of people who will testify for you with contact information on hand.
6. Children front and center. During a contested custody battle it can get heated. Keep your focus on your children and what's best for them. Don't become entangled in revenge and anger.

If you and your spouse focus on what's in the best interest of your children, much of the accusations, anger, and excess stress should disappear. In the end what's best for the children will be accomplished.
7. Stay calm, keep focused. A contested custody battle can bring about many emotions; anger, resentment, frustrations, hurt, disappointment, regret, and more. Keeping a calm heart and mind; staying focused on the facts – as well as being honest about what's in the best interest of your children is vital to your success in court. Showing the judge a calm, in control, mature parent despite the stress of the situation is key in winning your case. Lose your cool and you risk losing your case.
After all that I think Maine Divorce Law Blog's Preparing for a child custody fight provides a great summing up:
One thing that’s important to recognize is that good parenting skills should begin early in the case and continue right up to the hearing (and beyond, of course).

To suddenly become a great parent 2 weeks before trial won’t be helpful to your case. You need to show a pattern of good parenting behavior.

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