Clients often ask me what they can do to increase their chances of receiving an order for the type of custody of their choice.
My answer is to treat the other parent like a human being-- at least as well as a stranger you meet in line at the grocery store. Basic civility is crucial in the eyes of custody judges and hearing officers. In some states, inability to discuss the child politely can be grounds for denying joint custody.
If one parent or the other has been less than well-behaved, this may be difficult, but the cost of control pays off in the long run. Remember- this is also an example to the child of how to handle disagreements with others. If you show him that screaming, hostility and name calling is the best procedure--- he may do the same.
Other things I recommend for an upcoming custody hearing:
- Don't flaunt new companions-- it tests the child's loyalty and may give the other parent ammunition if the court is on the conservative side.
- Have an appropriate sized place to live. While your residence needn't be the Taj Mahal it should be well kept and have enough space for all to live comfortably. Once children reach the age of five, boys and girls should probably sleep in separate rooms.
- Don't coach the child to make negative comments about the other parent or positive statements about you. A skilled judge/mediator can discover what a child's been told and this tactic could backfire. Manipulation of a child's psyche can be very damaging and a parent who can abuse a child in this way shouldn't have custody.
- Use the meeting with the court to sincerely discuss what's best for the child, not as an opportunity to rehash old issues with the other parent. Someone who appears to be moving forward, not backward, will have a better chance to be the custodial parent.
- Don't be too focused on "winning." In the best-case scenario, the children are the winners. This may mean parents have to share custody more equally than they may have liked, or give up some holidays formerly spent with the child, but it's for the child's benefit.