I urge parents to make their best efforts to negotiate child custody agreements without court involvement. If you’ve tried and it’s impossible, do these ten things to prepare for a child custody battle in California.
1. Assess your parenting style and improve as necessary
Child custody and visitation decisions are made from the standpoint of the child’s best interest and a court must look at “all circumstances bearing on the best interest of the minor child.” Generally, absent a showing of detriment to the children, courts favor maintaining the status quo. If the kids have been living with their mother since separation, the “permanent” custody order may preserve the arrangement.
2. Behave responsibly and protect your child/children from harm
If your spouse is abusing you and your kids, get help from professionals and organizations with expertise in child abuse. These experts understand your situation, know the domestic violence – family law legal system and are the people most capable of protecting kids during and after divorce.
3. Hire an attorney who specializes in child custody disputes in your county
4. Be transparent with your attorney about your personal history and current lifestyle
5. Ask your lawyer to explain the child custody dispute process
6. Be mindful of your conduct during child custody mediation and evaluations
All contested custody and/or visitation issues, whether temporary or permanent, must be set for mandatory mediation before a court hearing or trial ensues. (California Family Code Sections 3100 et seq.)
If your county is a “child custody recommending counseling” county and you don’t mediate a child custody agreement with the court’s mediator, he/she may submit custody and visitation recommendations to the court and in most instances, they’re accepted by the judge and become child custody orders. (California Family Code Sections 3160 and 3183(a))
7. Identify witnesses who may be called to testify in your case
8. Keep a log of actual timeshare and use email to track child custody issues
9. Gather evidence to prove your child custody case.
If you’re self-represented, there are at tools for collecting records from schools, pediatricians, psychologists, teachers and others with information relevant to your kids and child custody case.
10. Stay calm and be focused
Child custody battles are easily infuriating, but staying calm and focused is critical for at least two reasons. One, judges and attorneys tend to dismiss irrational parents’ legitimate child custody arguments and, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence, rule more favorably for less emotive parents. Two, it’s more difficult for angry parents to make good choices and remain focused while preparing for court.
I recommend using mindfulness meditation to cope, which is scientifically proven to reduce stress. It’s free, portable and once developed, can be used effectively anywhere and anytime. I’ve tried many modalities and mindfulness meditation is my top tool for dealing with difficult people and situations.