When going to court to get child custody orders or modifying existing orders, it’s essential to have all of your ducks in a row. In this case, this often means having paperwork and documents in your hands to submit to the child custody court for consideration. It can be overwhelming to know what to bring with you, and National Family Solutions can help you figure it out based on your specific needs. Here are a general list and explanation of what you will probably want to have with you in most cases.
Documentation of Contact
Keep track of all contact between you and your ex and your child (or your ex and your child). It would help if you showed the child custody court that you have a relationship with your child and communicate with your other parent’s wishes. If you are the parent with custody and your ex has hardly any contact with your child, you will want to document that, too.
What type of contact counts? Anything. Do you text, email, or call your ex to talk about what is going on in your child’s life? Include that. Does your ex call every night to talk to your child, or, conversely, does your child try to get in touch with his or her other parent only to have those attempts ignored? Have you called your ex to set up visitation, and they have ignored you or denied you contact?
If your ex is not letting you speak to your child when you call, write that down as well. In-person contact is also essential to keep track of. If your ex is not showing up for weekly visitation but is trying to sue you for full custody, that lack of reliability is something you should include in your documentation.
On the other hand, if they are often late returning your child or trying to pick up your child from school when it is not their day, you will want to make sure the child custody court is aware. If you are the non-custodial parent and you have not been allowed by the custodial parent to adhere to your visitation schedule, be sure to bring that to the court’s attention.
Documentation from Others
Someone who is a third party can attest to your relationship (or your ex’s lack of a relationship) with your child. If you are the assistant coach on your child’s soccer team, ask the head coach to write a letter documenting your involvement when you go to parent-teacher conferences, markdown when they occur and how your child is doing.
If the teacher expresses concern that your child is not completing homework with their other parent, it is worth mentioning in your documentation. Medical records might also be necessary, mainly if you are concerned that your ex is not taking good care of your child with their other parent. If there are unexplained injuries or your child is getting headaches or stomach aches whenever they visit their other parent, that could be an essential part of your case.
In some cases, a professional evaluator such as a social worker, guardian ad litem (GAL), or counselor will meet with your ex and your child, either together or at separate times. These evaluations will tell the judge about your relationship and your ex’s relationship with your child.
You will not be responsible for submitting these evaluations’ results; the evaluator will introduce them to the child custody court. There are some things you can do to make the process easier, however. Here are some of them:
- Be honest. Do not try to portray yourself or your relationship with your child as something that it is not. First of all, this will not help you solve any issues that you’re dealing with. Secondly, your evaluator does not expect you to be perfect. If you have health issues or financial problems, you don’t need to detail them, but you should be sure to let the evaluator know how you deal with these issues and make the situation better for your child.
- Do not use your child as a middleman. The evaluator will be talking to you, your child, and your ex. He or she might also speak to other people who are familiar with your relationship with your child. Do not pump your child for information about what he or she talked about with the evaluator. Also, do not try coaching your child; let them be honest and talk about how they perceive things.
- Make a good impression. Just as you would not show up for court looking like you just rolled out of bed, you should try to make a good impression on your evaluator. Be sure that you are clean and dressed appropriately for a meeting. If they visit you at your home, make sure that it is clean and tidied up. You do not need to scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush or clean out every closet, but make sure that surfaces are clean and reasonably clutter-free. Your evaluator knows that a child lives with you, so some toys in the living room and your child’s drawings on the refrigerator are to be expected!
When submitting documents to the child custody court, you will often need to send them ahead of time. If questions are sent to you, you will need to return the answers by the form’s date. In some cases, you can bring documents with you to court.
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you decide what to send ahead of time and bring with you on your court date. We can also help you understand what you will need to do to boost your custody case chances. Contact us to see if we can help you represent yourself and your child’s best interests in child custody court.