There is nothing more heartbreaking than custody battles—two parents each trying to get custody of the kids. This is a guest post by Ft. Worth based divorce attorney, Deborah Bankhead, who offers tips of increasing your chances of getting custody.
How To Keep Your Kids In Your Divorce
by Deborah Bankhead
People often ask us how to win custody of their kids, and though the answer varies case by case, here are some general rules that will improve your chances.
1. Document everything. This is probably fairly obvious, but when we say everything, we mean everything. How much time do you spend with your kids? How many times a week do you pick them up from school? How much do you spend on childcare? While many people keep receipts, it’s also important to log how much time you spend on anything related to your kids. Being able to show that you are committed to your kids is an important argument to make to the court.
2. Protect yourself and your children. If there is family violence involved in your divorce or in a child custody issue, your first and foremost goal should be protecting your children. You should keep track of any incident or any call to police and be ready to provide the court with documentation about safety concerns related to the other parent. Many states have provisions for family violence, and a person who commits family violence generally loses custody of their kids. Some states, like Texas, even have provisions that allow the court to order alimony payments if one spouse is convicted of family violence against the other when the spouse otherwise would not be eligible for alimony.
3. Hire a therapist. While this can be pricey, discussing the emotional roller-coaster you are on with an expert can be a huge relief and lead to a smoother process in front of the judge or mediator.
4. Don’t be bullied by your spouse. Whether the negative behavior is related to you, money, property, or your kids, do not let your spouse take advantage of you and bully you into doing something you don’t want to do. During divorce, your goal should be advocating for yourself and your kids.
5. Know your rights and what the law provides. For example, many people don’t know that in some states you can seek temporary support while going through divorce. Being aware of details like this can help you thrive, rather than merely survive, your divorce.
6. Remember state law varies. There is no one set guideline for all family law cases. If you have a custody battle that involves parents (or children) in different states, be familiar with the state law that will control your case. For example, Texas has rules about how long a parent and/or child must live in Texas for the court to have jurisdiction over the parties. Be aware of the rules that apply to your case and call an attorney if you have questions about where and how the case should be filed. Not knowing which law controls can result in your case getting moved to another state if jurisdiction is proper there.
7. Make a list of child custody goals. List how much time you want with the kids, the holidays you want with them, and any other nuances that pertain to them. Be clear and be able to explain why you want something.
8. Expect arguments against you. No one is perfect. Be prepared to defend yourself if your spouse tries to cast you in a negative light (drinking, spendthrift, impulsive) and be ready to articulate your strengths. Anticipating and understanding the arguments against you will allow you to counter their assertions. See Tip #1.
9. Make a budget and stick to it. Court proceedings can get costly. Keep this in mind before you decide to spend a lot on a trip, hobby, or other luxury. Think about what you can afford and whether or not you need legal representation. If there are kids involved, and especially if your spouse hires an attorney, you should strongly consider getting a lawyer as well. If matters are contentious, you should take that into your consideration of whether or not you should hire an attorney.
10. Decide how much you want to share. It’s not uncommon for friends and family to question you about your divorce, kids, or marital problems. Keep in mind that anything you say to others can resurface if they testify against you. This includes social media. If you don’t want the judge to hear about it, don’t post about it. Basically, fight clean.
11. Research the other attorney and the judge. Knowing the other attorney’s style and how the judge tends to rule in a case can help better formulate arguments.
12. Don’t forget to factor child support into child-related or divorce agreements. You may be ordered to pay child support. Family judges look at the best interests of the child, not your best interests. Note: not having a job does not excuse you from child support.
13. Determine how you are going to react if the divorce proceedings get “nasty.”
It’s not uncommon for divorce proceedings to go south quickly. Decide now how you want to handle yourself and what kind of example you want to set for your kids. Taking the high road will help shield your kids emotionally.
14. Make it clear to your kids that you love and support them. Divorce will not change your love for your children. Let them know that. Don’t let divorce turn you into an absentee parent. Bond with your kids.
15. Weigh your options. Decide whether you want to go through mediation or an out-of-court dispute resolution process to dissolve your divorce. It can be cheaper than going through the standard court proceedings.
Of course, this list is not exclusive. Emotions often control how divorce and child-custody proceedings play out, but having an idea of what to expect, a solid game plan, and looking at the big picture will help you stay level-headed and get through court proceedings.
At the end of the day, remember that child custody issues are about your kids, not about your spouse. It’s easy to try to get back at your spouse or stay mad. Sometimes, staying mad can even be healthy if it means it will get you out of a bad situation. But when your kids are involved, anger will not prevail or teach them about unconditional love. Don’t let your divorce make a relationship casualty out of more than your marriage. By putting your kids first, you will give yourself the best chance at a relationship with them and custody from the court.
Deborah Bankhead is an Attorney at Varghese Summersett Family Law Group. Deborah believes compassion and patience are required of family law attorneys and she is a relentless advocate for families in crisis. In her spare time, Deborah volunteers to help teens interested in the legal field pursue their dreams and likes to hang out with her cat.
Like this post? Check out, “The Hardest Part About Getting Divorced: Lack of Control”
The mere “need” for this article says an awful lot about what’s wrong with custody and the courts.
Abuse is one thing, but what moral justification might one parent otherwise have to limit or marginalize the role and relationship of the other parent in a child’s life?
I would suggest that before you implement the steps in this article, decide why you feel it necessary. If you’re the person facing becoming an every-other-weekend-two-weeks-in-the-summer afterthought as a parent, then fight. I generally followed the steps above. They do work. If you’re the person who already has the children more than half of the time, reconsider. What is your real motive? Is it to receive a bigger child support check? Is it to pay a smaller one? Is it for more control? Is it to punish the other parent for what they did in the marriage? Is it because of other choices YOU have made (dating/remarriage, job, etc.) that you’re now expecting the other parent to make a sacrifice for? None of those entitle you to a greater share of time.