Family Law

What Not to Do in a Child Custody Battle

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
How to avoid some common pitfalls in a custody battle.

Don’t Rush to Move in With a New Partner

Judges consider numerous factors when making custody decisions, however, a child’s best interests are always the central focus. Some parents are surprised to learn that a boyfriend or girlfriend they love and trust can harm their chances at obtaining the custody plan they want. But a live-in partner’s criminal, medical, or family history can quickly become an issue during your custody case, since that person will also live with your child.

A judge will always consider a parent’s living arrangements as part of evaluating custody. A parent’s ability to provide a stable, clean, and nurturing environment is essential. If your new boyfriend or girlfriend poses any risk of harm to your child, a judge may find that your home isn't a suitable choice.

A significant other’s live-in children might also impact a judge’s decision. A judge will want to ensure that your child is safe around these other children, has a bed—possibly even a separate bedroom—and will receive individual love and attention in your home.

Don’t Lie

Your mom was right – lying always backfires. Parents seeking custody will want to portray themselves in the best light possible. However, there’s a major difference between highlighting your best qualities and lying about past mistakes.

For example, resist the temptation to accuse your child’s other parent of abuse or neglect if it’s not true. Also, acknowledge your parenting mistakes or financial struggles, and be prepared to demonstrate how you’ve overcome them. Most judges have a way at getting to the bottom of a story and finding out the truth. Lying to a judge or officer of the court is considered perjury. If you lie in your custody case filings—or on the witness stand—you lose all credibility and may lose custody as well.

Don’t Cut Off Your Child’s Other Parent

Judges will consider a parent’s willingness to allow contact between the child and the other parent. You can lose custody if you abuse visitation rights or refuse to allow your child to visit your ex. Regular contact with both parents serves a child’s best interests. A judge will consider each parent’s ability and efforts to facilitate the parent-child relationship. If you want to succeed in a custody case, show a judge how you facilitate parent-child visits and support your child’s family relationships.

Don’t Disappear

One of the worst things you can do in a custody battle is to disappear out of state or refuse to return your ex’s phone calls. Your ex—and the court—should be able to reach you easily throughout the custody proceeding. For example, a custodial parent can’t relocate without court approval. Additionally, many temporary custody orders require a parent to notify the other parent before leaving town. Few things are scarier to a parent than to think their child has disappeared out of the country. Even if you are just trying to lay low, it’s never a good idea to hide your whereabouts from your child’s other parent. Stay in regular contact with your attorney and your ex while your custody case is proceeding.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed during a custody battle with your ex. Many courts offer basic custody forms and instructions online. However, this is a complex area of the law, and parents have a lot at stake. If you’re unsure about how to proceed, don’t hesitate to hire an experienced family law attorney. A good attorney can take a lot of the stress out of your custody case and help keep you on the right track.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do I have to allow visitation if I have reason to believe that my ex is abusing our child?
  • What can I do if my ex is preventing visits with my child?
  • Can I take my child on a family vacation if I’m in the middle of a custody battle?
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