The following topics are discussions on what to keep in mind when you are involved in a custody case at any stage of any custody proceeding or at any age of a child.
Always keep emotions in check!
People may believe that this is fairly obvious, but how a client presents him or herself can be critical to a case. If the case does not turn out to be planned, one must maintain his or her emotions. Custody cases are never over until a child is eighteen (18) years of age. If one needs to go back to Court, it is most likely that you will see the same Judge or hearing officer.
Judges and hearing officers have amazing memories when it comes to people who come before them and are difficult or combative. Even if the decision is a poor one, you have to be conscious of another appearance in front of the same Judge or hearing officer.
With respect to being organized, one of the suggestions to be made to someone involved in a custody dispute is to keep a journal or a diary. The more detail that one can testify in a custody case adds to one's credibility. Keeping a diary of the interactions with the other party is a helpful tool when there is litigation. Memories can be unclear at times, but keeping a date, time, place and what was said helps a Judge in rendering a decision.
I had a recent client who kept spreadsheets of the time that the opposing party saw the child. Highlights would be early returns or not receiving the child at all. He kept it to the percentage of time that he had the child. He would also keep track of all phone calls and text messages.
Be Aware! The other Parent's dating habits! (and the person you are dating.)
After a parents separate, it is inevitable that the parties will date other people. It is important to not introduce your child to the person that you are dating for approximately six (6) months after dating starts or until you feel comfortable that you know the person that you are seeing.
The same can be said of an adverse party. This is one of the reasons that a parent loses custody of his or her child. The child may not like the person that the parent is dating or the person mistreats the child either psychologically, physically or both. Additionally, the new person may be someone who has a drug or alcohol dependency issue. This person may have a past of criminal involvement. You want to be very careful as to the people that you introduce to your child. There are many online services that can provide a background report. I also have relationships with private investigators who can look into a person's background for you.
Be Aware! The other Parent's economic situation!
In any custody case, one must be aware of the other’s economic situation. There are many different reasons why the adverse party in a custody suit may have a breakdown in their financial situation. This could be an eviction from an apartment or the foreclosure on a house. It could be through the loss of a job whether through disability or getting fired. The domino effect may be a loss in housing. This creates an instability for the child. The parent may bounce from his or her parents’ house to a friend’s house or a boyfriend or girlfriend’s house. This is not good for a child and can lead to a modification of a custody order. Some courts may be reluctant to switch custody if the child has been moved into a stable environment such as a grandparent’s house. However, this is in conjunction with other factors that have been discussed that may lead to a change in custody.
Be Aware! The other Parent's psychological issues!
I have observed in many custody cases where psychological issues have arisen. These include diagnoses such as severe depression, bi-polar disorder, multiple personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder just to name a few.
You have to be aware of the other parents past and possible future for psychological episodes. This would include hospitalizations and violent outbursts where law enforcement would be involved. This may not only be associated with the parent on the opposing side but with whomever the other parent is dating, living or married to. Exposure to this type of behavior can have serious long-term effects on the child where the child may need some form of treatment to alleviate any harm from being exposed to this situation.
Many years I actually had a client whose child was taken away from him because he had multiple personality disorder. When the parent’s condition was under control, the nurturing personality that took care of the child was absent. This resulted in a child whose behavior became disruptive and uncontrollable.
I have been involved in a number of situations where I have represented both situations. I have represented people who have had problems. The best thing to do is to try to stabilize a situation. Alleviate any of a Court's concerns with an evaluation, therapy or some type of drug treatment.
These situations can be volatile and it is important to act quickly regardless of the circumstances.