Parents Seeking Custody

Vince Regan
December, 2001

Generally speaking, there are some concrete things you can do when seeking custody of your kids that will better your chances. Note that doing these things has to become a "way of life" and must be sincere. By that, I mean you cannot merely approach them as a huge strategy that you execute only in an effort to get custody and forget about later on.

1. Educate yourself about the custody factors and process within your state. Nearly every state has a list of criteria in the state law that is used to determine custody. Find that list and research each item point by point. Factors might include: A.) The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community. B.) The love and affection and other emotional ties existing between the child and each parent. And the list goes on...

2. Take the criteria you've identified above and see where you now stand and how you can impact it. This means looking at each point and honestly evaluating your strengths and weaknesses as they relate to that point. Your goal must be to build upon your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses.

3. You must document where you are and where you are going! This is critical and means you must write down notes about each point in the criteria. It wouldn't be uncommon to have several pages of notes about each point when you are done. The notes should include your thoughts on the specific criteria. Let's say it's from point "A" in number one above: "The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community. Your notes would elaborate on each of the three points within that item-notes on adjustment to home, notes on adjustment to school, and notes on adjustment to the community.

4. Evaluate your positives and seek factual information to back up your position. Take the strengths you have listed and seek ways to verify those strengths. If a strength for you is your involvement in your child's school, for example, then come up with ways to illustrate that to others. The goal is to be factual and objective. Below are sources of information, some factual and objective, and comments on their usefulness.

a. Concrete Evidence. This would include items you can touch that show your strengths in a given area. Using the school example above you must think of concrete things that could show your involvement. It might be evidence of being on the school board or a school committee (like meeting minutes). It might be photos of you coaching a school sport. It might be a thank you note from a teacher for helping out with a class party or field trip. The list of concrete items that illustrate your involvement in your child's school could be many things. The example we are using is your involvement in your kids school, but this principle of concrete evidence can be applied to any of the criteria. Concrete Evidence is one of the strongest items you can present to influence the custody decision.

b. Independent Third Party Testimony. Don't be taken aback by the word "testimony." This is really nothing more than getting other people to describe how you rate on a given criteria from the list. The key is that they are "independent third party" people. These are people who have no real vested interest in the outcome of your custody situation. They can be teachers, doctors, childcare providers, neighbors, school counselors, community groups, coaches, and others. The goal is to get these individuals to provide information they know about you. Ideally, in writing and sometimes via verbal court testimony. Again, using the example of school involvement this might be asking a teacher to write a note about how you have never missed one of your child's conferences, or seeing if the school counselor would give verbal court testimony about your efforts to see that your kids emotional needs were being met. The examples are limited only by your unique situation and should be applied to the entire spectrum of the criteria to determine custody. The value of Independent Third Party Testimony is very high. These individuals provide great insights into you as a parent and can also be questioned regarding their opinion on the prospects of future successful single parenting on your part. Sometimes the toughest part can be approaching the individual doctor, teacher, counselor, etc and having a discussion requesting them to get involved. Don't skip this step, however, as it's invaluable.

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