Do You Have a Custody Battle?
The first thing that you need to do is determine whether or not you actually have a custody battle. A lot of people overreact to custody issues. It’s obviously a very emotional issue. The conversation that makes you believe you’re going to have a court battle may just be emotions running high and you may not actually have one. The best thing is to nip that in the bud right away, because if you start pursuing the custody action and the other party didn’t really intend to have one, you may create one where there wasn’t one.
What to Expect
If you do, in fact, determine that you’re going to have an issue, then the next thing you need to do is learn a little bit about the process and what to expect. First is, learn about the custody laws. I normally tell my clients to actually stay away from custody terms and laws, because there’s a lot and it’s very confusing. There’s parent of primary residence, parent of alternate residence, sole custody, legal custody, physical custody, primary residence…it’s overwhelming. At this point, though, you do want to have some understanding of the terms, because if you go in the court asking for something and you use the wrong term, you may mislead the court to what you really want and come out with less than you were expecting to have, as well as less than you might have been entitled to.
Talk to an Attorney
After this, you will want to talk to an attorney. You may not have the funds for it. You may not even want the help, but I think getting at least a consultation is going to helpful. You can learn from them. Make sure that you understand the custody terms that you talked about. You can get a sense of what the process is like and what to expect. Custody cases can be very long and drawn out and if you go into there, unfamiliar with the process, it’s going to make it just that much more difficult.
Also, along those lines, I normally tell people, I advise people mostly, try not to go to the internet because there’s a great deal of information. That being said, I did a webinar on the custody laws of New Jersey. The webinar may actually help you in your preparation.
Once you have some understanding of the background and what you want to look to, you want to now start gaining some evidence. First evidence you want to start with is actually concerning your child. You may or may not be heavily involved in a child’s life. You may have been more involved or less involved in the past, but you want to start gaining the information about the child’s life. Depending on the child’s age, you’ll want to:
- Learn the names of the child’s friends
- Meet their teachers
- Know where the doctors are
- Find out if there’s any kind of recent medical or educational issues that you don’t know about
- Know what activity this child is generally engaged in, both with his friends and at school
- Get the child’s clothing and shoe sizes
I’m not just suggesting that you don’t know or you that you haven’t been involved, but you might be less involved for the moment. You might be physically living separate, and you’re not the active parenting parent, so you really want to get a leg up on all this personal information. Learning the information above will help with the typical questions that people are going to ask, both judges and experts, to determine your actual level of involvement.
Make a List of Activities
Next, you want to make a list of the activities that you have been involved in, or performing, as far back as you can remember. If you were in charge of bathing the child or making food and bottles of formula, you want to make note of this. You want to get involved in all their activities that you possibly can at the moment and going forward. You also want to start making a list of all these activities that you have done in the past and currently, as well as trying to make a calendar of them, if you can, going in the past, but certainly going forward in the future.
In this calendar, I’d also recommend you keep track of other issues, like the parenting times that you’ve had and the times you’ve been denied parenting time. You can note the conversations and arguments you’ve been having and issues that come up with the other parent. I’d usually recommend you try to keep this in one place. Google calendars are great, easy, and a free way to do it. Maintaining a Google calendar keeps it accessible on different devices so you can always access it. There’s a family wizard that is very helpful and recommended by the courts. This is a little more complicated and it involves the other parent, but there are many different mechanisms that you could do. I do recommend that it be online, so that there’s a backup and easy access to it.
Last, you want to interview some experts. Aside from the lawyers that I recommend you see, there’s a couple people:
- Custody Expert – There’s a very good chance you’re going to need one. You want to start interviewing them, because you want to make sure that the people that you are going to be hiring are aligned with your desires. You usually get sort of an impression from any kind of expert that you meet with, whether or not they really are in favor of your kinds of positions or not. It’s good to find this out early, so you don’t have to go shopping around when the court’s requiring you provide a name.
- Family Therapist – A court could order the family go to therapy. You may find that your child needs some therapy during the custody issue, so that you can help him or her get through it, so having that name available is going to also help a great deal.
- Alienation Expert – You can usually do this by putting in the web search into your browser. I don’t believe they’re going to be many that hold themselves out as alienation experts or therapists, but there are certainly a good handful of them and they will be identified by that term. They’re usually going to be specifically identified that way.
Now, you may not have alienation issues, but often, when there arises a custody claim or a challenge of custody, the other parent, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, may begin alienation efforts. You want to be able to identify them and to eradicate them, so having somebody in your corner to help coach you through that, as well as to potentially testify for you in the future, is going to be very helpful.