32 Tips for your Child Custody Case in California
- Follow the court order completely, regardless of any violations of the order the other parent may be committing.
- One of the key issues in a custody determination is which parent is better able to share the children with the other parent. Make sure that you have done everything in your power to ensure your children go on each of the other parent's visitations.
- If the children do not currently live with you, exercise all of the time available to you. Be prompt and dependable about picking the children up for their time with you.
If your child asks you to skip an occasional visitation period so he or she can participate in some special activity, you should consider rearranging your time with your child.
This is a chance for you to demonstrate flexibility and your willingness to put the child's needs above your own. Do your best to reschedule. If you are the custodial parent, have the child and the other parent work out any changes in the schedule that the child seeks. Do not get in the middle. Be flexible to provide another time if possible.
- Keep a detailed diary or calendar of the specific days each child was with you and with the other parent. Note the times of pick up and return of the child. Outline activities that the child engaged in. Do not pump your children for information. Note the person who picked up and/or returned your child. If you are receiving or paying child support, note each check number, the date of receipt/payment, and the amount of the check.
- If the children do not live with you, do your best to personally pick up and return your children each time you see them. It is not desirable to have your secretary, friend, or relative picking up or returning the children, except in cases of great need.
- If you are recently separated from the other parent, it is better to not include your boyfriend or girlfriend in any visitation you have with the children. It is not desirable to have new boyfriends or girlfriends living with you or spending the night with you when the children are present. It can be upsetting to the children and can appear to the court that you put your need to be with your new friend above your children's needs and that you lack good judgment concerning the children.
If you have been separated for six months or more and have developed a stable relationship with someone else, having that person present on your visitations is not as dangerous.
Be certain to thoroughly investigate the character of any adult friends you permit to be around the children. Anyone known to be a drug user, drug seller, child molester, or convicted felon should never be permitted around your children.
- Be very careful regarding your driving record and the driving records of anyone whom you permit to drive your children.
- Always be certain that the children use seat belts. Car seats must always be used until your child is four years old, 40 inches tall, and weighs 40 pounds.
- Be alert to avoid activities that could leave you vulnerable to claims of sexual misconduct with your children. These include bathing with the children, letting them sleep in your bed, and being nude with the children.
- Make sure your home and other places you take the children are safe and child-proofed, according to your children's ages. If you keep guns, ammunition, or weapons of any kind in a house with children, and especially if this has been a source of conflict between you and the other parent, it would be best to get the guns out of the house unless they are vital to your employment.
If they must stay, they should be securely locked in a cabinet to which the children have no access. Keep your home reasonably clean so you will not be confronted with photos of litter, beer cans, clutter, etc., in your home when you are testifying in court.
- Be aware of the ratings of the movies you permit your children to see when they are in your custody. "PG-13" movies are best shown to children 11 or older. "R" movies should not be shown to preteens, unless edited.
- Know your children's teachers, doctors, school counselors, scout leaders, coaches, etc.; these people often make excellent witnesses. Attend school functions and parent conferences. Do not use these occasions to do battle with the other parent. If you possibly can, volunteer to help out at school or with teams, etc. If the other party does not supply you with information on these events, take the initiative to get the information yourself.
- Discourage your child from calling persons other than the other parent "mom" or "dad." You do not want to do anything that appears like you are trying to take the child away from the other parent or to replace him or her in any way.
- If you have been using corporal punishment such as spanking, slapping, or hitting a child, stop. You cannot undo your past practices, but judges do not like to hear of these methods being used and you must find another way to discipline your children. Do not lie about your past actions. Do not belittle, humiliate, or berate your children in your methods of discipline. Always strive to increase your child's self-respect.
- Do not say anything negative about the other parent, his or her relatives, or new partner in front or your children. When you say bad things about a parent, the child is likely to internalize the comment as saying something bad about the child.
- Do everything in your power to boost your child's self-esteem. Your ability to make your children know that they are special and valued is critical. Do not compare the children to each other or favor one child over the other.
- If you have been taking any recreational drugs, stop now. Do not have any paraphernalia in your home. Traces of many drugs remain in your body for a long time, so recreational use even when the children are not present can be very damaging testimony against you.
- By and large, a witness can only testify to facts that he or she observed personally. You cannot testify to what your children have told you. You can, generally, testify to what the other parent has told you. If your children have told you things about the other parent, his or her lifestyle or the activities that are engaged in when the children are present, most likely the only ways to get this information into evidence are:
1) have the children see a psychologist or psychiatrist and describe these things;
2) ask the other parent about these incidents and hope he or she admits to them; or
3) witness them yourself or attempt to obtain another witness. Note the persons present at the time of any significant incident so we will know whom to call as witnesses.
- Keep in contact with potential witnesses so that they can easily be contacted they are needed to testify. Make sure you have current addresses and telephone numbers.
- Any mental health professional you may wish to call at trial must be selected with great care. Many excellent counselors do not testify effectively in court. A doctor of psychology or a psychiatrist has better credentials for courtroom testimony than an M.F.C.C. or L.C.S.W. You will be at a tactical disadvantage if your witness has less training or experience than the other parent's witness.
- If you are seeking a change from a prior custody order after your divorce has become final, the testimony may be limited to events that have occurred after the last custody order. You should concentrate on a change of circumstances since the last order.
- Do not plan to move the children any great distance from their current residence, except under the most necessary of circumstances. Do not make any threats of taking the children away so the other party cannot see them.
- Be able to demonstrate to the court through your actions and testimony that you see the children as individuals and not as extensions of yourself. Your ability to show your empathy for the children is important. Be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of the needs of each of your children.
- Be very cautious in your selection of child care providers or babysitters. Do your best to find licensed day care providers if the children are cared for outside of your home. Be prepared to demonstrate that anyone to whom you have entrusted the care of your children has sufficient age, maturity, judgment, and command of the English language to protect the children in emergency situations.
It is undesirable for court purposes to leave children under the age of 12 unsupervised for any lengthy periods of time. Do not leave even older teenagers alone overnight. Babysitters should be at least 14 years old. Try to have continuity of caretakers.
- Spend as much time as possible with your children. Do not drop children off with your relatives when it is your visitation weekend. Be prepared to testify regarding the activities you and the children share.
- Unless necessary for work, do not put very young children into day care facilities.
- No case has perfect facts. Every parent has made mistakes. It is extremely important to the success of your case that you tell your attorney the absolute truth about everything related to your case. That way the attorney can do the best towards "damage control."
- Do not leave your case preparation notebook in a place accessible to the other parent. It is better that the children are unaware that you are keeping a diary of events. If the other parent learns that a diary exists, you might be subpoenaed to produce it.
- When witnesses testify at court do not appear to be overly friendly or unfriendly to them. It is probably best not to drive to court together, unless the witness is a relative or person very close to you. Do not talk to or hug any friendly witnesses in the presence of the judge, except for relatives, spouses, or very close friends.
- Children do not usually testify in custody cases in California, not even in chambers. Most judges feel that a parent who is willing to put his or her child on the stand in a custody case is unlikely to have the child's best interest at heart.
- Do not ask the children with whom they want to live. It is best not to discuss custody matters extensively with the children, but instead let them know that the judge will make the decision. It is very common for children to tell both parents that they want to live at that parent's house.
- There are various styles of parenting, e.g., scheduled vs. flexible. Frequently, parents have strong differences in their parenting styles. No one style is better than another, unless the children are experiencing specific problems from a parenting style. The crucial element is to tell the truth. For instance, you might be asked if the children sometimes are in their pajamas until 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. The answer does not make any difference, but if you say "no" and credible witnesses testify "yes," you have lost major ground with the court. If the judge believes you have lied about a minor matter, he or she might be inclined to think you have lied on big issues as well.
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