If you and your child’s other parent are involved in a custody battle, you may be wondering what not to do to have the best chance at getting your desired custody and visitation arrangement. There are several things that can be detrimental to you in a child custody dispute, as well as detrimental to your child. Your deep love for your child shouldn’t be converted into an emotional test of wills over custody. Rather, you need to consider what is best for your child rather than what is best for you.
One especially important thing you should try very hard not to do is to take your custody dispute to trial. In addition to the expense in time, money, energy, and stress, court battles are usually not good for children emotionally and psychologically. It puts them in a tough situation to be the focus of a public legal fight between two parents they love. When possible, it is better for both parents to put emotions aside, make some concessions to obtain some goals, and reach a custody agreement both of you can accept.
If you cannot negotiate an agreement between yourselves with the help of your attorneys and possibly a mediator, your custody dispute will go to court. A judge will decide custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child after considering the factors described in New Jersey statute NJSA 9:2-4(c).
AVOID MAKING THESE MISTAKES IN CUSTODY BATTLES
DON’T DO AND SAY THE WRONG THINGS
You will be making a major mistake in your custody battle if your actions and words demonstrate that you do not have your child’s best interests in mind. Following are some of the factors that the court will examine in deciding on child custody arrangements. With these factors in mind, our divorce attorneys provide guidelines to steer you away from making mistakes that could hurt you in gaining the custody you want. Factors taken into consideration by the court are:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child. Don’t be uncooperative and shut off discussions just for sake’s sake– unless you have a compelling reason to do so. Do try to be flexible and engage in give and take as best as you can with the other parent and be logical and reasonable in your communications.
- The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse. Do not interfere with the other parent’s time with your child. Unless there’s evidence that the child is in physical or mental danger with the other parent, adhere to the visitation schedule.
- The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings. Don’t take your stress out on your child. Making your child miserable isn’t a recipe for child custody success. Your only mission is to be a great parent to your child and foster the relationship between you and any sibling they have.
- The history of domestic violence, if any. Don’t be violent with the other parent or, of course, with your child. If you were in the past, recognize that it was a problem, address it, seek professional help, be better moving forward and certainly don’t repeat it.
- The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent. Don’t engage in violence or make threats—or anything that could be perceived as a threat or harassment. This means, be careful with the frequency and substance of all of your communications with the other parent, especially anything in writing like text messages or emails.
- The stability of the home environment. It is important that your home environment be set up in a way that promotes success for your child. Is it organized? Clean? Safe? Also, if you choose to date during the custody or visitation dispute, keep it on the down low and no need to post on social media about it or throw it in your ex’s face. If you do plan on dating, do not introduce your child to everyone you date until and unless it is a serious relationship in which case you will want to discuss the protocol with the other parent before you just introduce your child to your significant other.
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education. Do not ignore your child’s education. Be super involved, help with homework, encourage your child, attend extracurricular activites, support your child emotionally, get him or her extra help if needed, and communicate with your child’s teachers—heck, join the PTA if you can! One of the criteria the Court will use is whether you know the details of your children’s health and education situation.
- The fitness of the parents. Love and care for your child. If your child needs medical attention or emotional help, don’t wait to get it. Don’t think you know it all. It is better to ask for help than potentially put your child in danger because your ego got in the way. Don’t make bad life choices. Stay away from non-prescription or illegal drugs and excessive alcohol. If you are having a hard time dealing with the breakup of the relationship from an emotional standpoint, seek professional guidance or a coach. The courts will not demerit you for that and in fact will appreciate you took accountability and ownership of the awareness that you need assistance to be the best version of you, for yourself and for your children long term.
- The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation. Spend as much quality time as you can with your child NOW. As much as the court wants to see you being a responsible parent, it also wants you and your child to have fun together. Do things your child says they like. Do not get hung up on the number of days or overnights you have with your child, but what you are doing to maximize the quality of the time you do have together.
By adhering to these do’s and don’ts, you will stand a better chance of the judge’s viewing you favorably for purposes of custody decisions.
TYPES OF CHILD CUSTODY ARRANGEMENTS
There are two types of custody in New Jersey: legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody is the ability to make major decisions about your child’s life, such as concerning education, health care, and religious upbringing. Unless your spouse has serious personal problems like substance abuse, a severe physical or mental illness, or a history of emotional and or physical abuse of you and or your child, the two of you will probably share legal custody. But if serious issues with a parent are present, sole legal custody may be granted to the other parent.
RESIDENTIAL OR PHYSICAL CUSTODY
Physical or residential custody is time spent living with your child. This is also typically shared in some way (sharing doesn’t necessarily mean 50/50). A parenting time schedule between the two of you, like all custody issues, will be decided by the judge based on your child’s best interests.
NO CUSTODY RIGHTS
If it is shown that a parent is unable to properly care for their child, or that they are unwilling to do so, they may not receive any custody rights at all. They may still be granted visitation depending upon the circumstances. In some cases, visitation will be supervised.
AVOIDING ERRORS IN CUSTODY BATTLES
There are various errors to avoid making in custody or visitation battles to have a better chance of a satisfactory custody arrangement. Doing and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can help you lose a custody battle. You may not get your desired custody arrangement if your “story” doesn’t sound logical or reasonable—or if what you put on social media undermines what you are saying. So be super careful about what you say and do in court and away from court, including what you put out into the internet world. It is often best not to use social media at all during your custody battle.
You can also err in a custody battle by not having effective legal representation, especially if your dispute is very emotional and contentious or the issues are complicated. By engaging the help of an experienced family lawyer with in-depth insight into New Jersey law, you may greatly increase your chances for a favorable result and help present your position in way that you are simply unable to because emotions or anxiety is clouding your judgment—or, you simply don’t know how to say what you want to say in a way that still gets your point across but would not optically look bad for you.
GET HELP FROM AN EXPERIENCED NEW JERSEY CHILD CUSTODY ATTORNEY
At [MFR] Men’s & Fathers’ Rights Divorce Lawyers, our attorneys have decades of experience helping families in custody cases.
We are committed to creating solutions that consider the concerns of all parties. The best custody agreements have the children’s needs and happiness at the center. Our Bergen County lawyers are skilled negotiators who seek win-win outcomes while always representing our clients with zealous advocacy. To find out more about how we can help, call us at (201) 880-9770 to arrange a consultation.