Whether you’re considering divorce, already divorced, or never married, getting custody of your child can be a daunting proposition. Is the mother going to turn your quest for custody into a knock-down drag-out fight? Or is she likely to be reasonable, understanding that fathers can have the same feelings for their children as mothers?
Regardless of the circumstances, the stakes are high. Once custody has been awarded to one parent, it’s a lot harder to change that order unless there’s been a significant change in circumstances, warranting the potentially traumatic upheaval in your child’s life.
Because a custody arrangement is likely to stay in place for a considerable length of time, it’s important to get it right! Before taking any action, you should consult an experienced child custody lawyer with expertise in preserving and promoting fathers’ rights.
At Slater & Zurz LLP, we’ve established a long track record of success in representing fathers in both divorce and post-divorce child custody cases. We’re aware of the pitfalls that fathers can encounter in seeking custody of their children, as well as the most common tactics used against men. Call or email our family law team for a free consultation to discuss your child custody claim. We’ll listen to your story, review any legal papers you have, and recommend what we believe is the best strategy for pursuing your right as a father to the custody of your children. Although the system has favored mothers for decades, that’s changing. We’ve been on the forefront among family law firms that will go the extra mile for fathers seeking custody. We understand where you’re coming from, and we’re here to fight for you!
- Be actively involved in your children’s lives.
Whether you’re still living with the children and their mother, or living apart, the most important thing you can do to demonstrate that the children should live with you is to be a hands-on dad who is actively involved in his children’s lives. If you’re living apart from the children, make visits a priority despite any inconvenience to you.
- Spend as much time as possible with your children. Take them to play in the park, out for ice cream, to ball games, roller skating, and other activities that they enjoy.
- Help with homework, share or supervise chores, and participate in other routine aspects of your children’s lives. Particularly when parents are living separately, a frequent complaint attorneys hear from mothers is that the father is a “Disneyland Dad”—always around for the fun but never there to help with problems or engage in day-to-day parenting.
- Attend parent-teacher conferences at school, take the children to doctor’s appointments, pick them up from school or after-school activities, and attend school plays and your children’s sports events. Get to know their teachers, coaches, school administrators, and other adults in their lives.
- Attend other important social gatherings, such as birthday parties and church-related activities. Get to know your children’s friends’ parents.
If the court’s home investigator or a guardian ad litem (someone appointed to represent the children’s interests in a custody case) contacts any of these individuals, they may provide invaluable support in confirming your regular personal involvement with your children. What these impartial adults have to say matters.
- If you’re living apart, pay child support and keep records.
Even if you have no court-ordered child support obligation, keep records of whatever you pay or provide for your children’s support.
- Do you write checks to your children’s mother?
- Have you bought diapers or formula?
- Do you pay school fees?
- Have you purchased athletic equipment for one or more of your kids?
- Do you pay all or part of the children’s daycare or school tuition?
- Have you paid other child-related expenses?
If you write checks to the children’s mother or pay for your children’s needs directly, save receipts, bank records or copies of cancelled checks!
Some firms recommend that a father who is in a stronger financial position use that to his advantage, making sure the court knows he can provide a more upscale home, live in a better school district, provide nicer clothes and toys for the children, provide better healthcare, and the like. Be careful—this could backfire! If the court is inclined to award custody to the mother, you may find yourself with nothing but a much higher child support obligation than a father who doesn’t flaunt his wealth. Let us help you navigate this minefield with a view to winning—not a misguided game of one-upmanship. The lifestyle you can provide for your children will be evident from home studies, the neighborhood where you live, the people with whom you associate, and your involvement in your kids’ lives.
- If you’re living apart from your children, keep in touch through video chats or by phone.
Don’t let your children get used to living without you! Standard visitation (also called “parenting time”) is typically every other weekend plus a few hours one evening during the week. If your kids’ mother has custody, either from a prior divorce decree or temporary orders in effect now, it’s imperative that your kids know you’re still as much a part of their lives now as you were when you resided with them.
Chat by video several times a week. If you or your kids don’t have the ability to video chat, call them on the phone. Ask about school, extracurricular activities, their friends, and anything they want to talk about. Keep the conversations upbeat! You want your kids to have good memories of every chat.
If the kids’ mother obstructs your efforts to stay in touch with them, keep records! Make a note of the date, time of day, reason (or excuse) for not allowing you to connect with the kids, and anything important that you wanted to discuss with them. Notes made at the time an event occurred are (a) more accurate than a distant recollection, and (b) more credible. The mother’s attempts to prevent you from maintaining a strong relationship with your kids will not help her claim for continued custody.
- Be polite; treat the kids’ mom with respect; and keep the kids out of the custody fight!
No matter what she does, don’t belittle your kids’ mother in front of them. Courts strive to keep the relationships between the children and each parent intact. One important factor in virtually all custody decisions is which parent will support the children’s relationship with the other parent, and whether either parent will obstruct or interfere with the children’s relationship with the other.
If the mother fails to comply with agreed-upon arrangements—for example, who will have the children on a particular occasion—gently remind her about your agreement. Try to set boundaries without elevating the issue to a full-blown argument. Remember: your goal is to win full custody—not to prevail in one or two minor skirmishes.
Your children are just that—children. They don’t deserve to be dragged into your disagreements with their mother. They need reassurance that you love them unconditionally, and won’t hold it against them if they continue to love both you and their mother. The court needs to know that you won’t undermine your kids’ relationship with their mom if you’re awarded custody.
- Be honest with yourself.
Being a full-time single parent and holding a full-time job can be challenging. Be prepared to explain how you will balance competing responsibilities.
- Can you leave work to tend to a school emergency involving your child? If not, what plans have you made to ensure that your child’s needs are met?
- If your work involves travel, have you made plans for child care, including transportation to and from school and extracurricular activities?
- Will you be there to help with homework?
- Who will supervise your children’s internet use while you’re at work?
These are just a few questions that you may be asked.
The court’s primary concern is the child’s best interest. At Slater & Zurz, we recognize the importance of a father’s regular influence in his children’s lives, and will help keep you focused on the “big picture”—winning custody of your children and ensuring their success as they grow to adulthood. We’ll be here to answer your questions and offer advice throughout what can seem like a legal obstacle course. Our goal is your success!
- Plan or prepare a space for your children in your home.
Be prepared to answer questions concerning your children’s accommodations in your home.
- Be careful on social media.
Don’t sabotage your custody case before it’s even filed by irresponsible postings on social media! Make sure that any depictions of you on social media are consistent with the image you want to portray as a parent.
- Get advice from someone who’s been there.
If you know other fathers who’ve been through a child custody case, ask them about it. Whether they won or lost, they may have helpful pointers to offer. Take advantage of the insight from someone who’s been there before.
- Don’t discuss child support in conversations concerning custody.
Many people—even some lawyers—assume that the first priority of a father seeking custody isn’t raising his children, but lowering his child support obligation. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to apply that reasoning to your custody claim.
- Consider mediation.
At the end of the day, you and your children’s mother will be co-parenting. A bitter custody fight can inject a permanent toxicity into your relationship. A skilled mediator—typically an attorney with experience handling and mediating custody cases—may be able to steer the mediation in the direction you want. Be reasonable, and yield on issues that are important to her but not essential to you. A shared parenting plan (also called “joint custody”) which allocates more time with the children to you and less to their mother might be a reasonable compromise.
Trust a full-service law firm with a long track record of success to handle your custody case.
Whether your child custody case can be resolved by a negotiated agreement or is hotly contested and must be tried before a judge or magistrate, you can trust Slater & Zurz to handle all aspects of your case with the compassion, professionalism, and top-quality service that you deserve. We have been practicing family law for over 40 years, with a proven track record of success. We’ve developed expertise in fathers’ rights issues as a result of substantial experience representing fathers in divorce and post-divorce custody cases.
Call or email us to schedule a free consultation. We’ll review your case, listen to you so that we know your priorities, and suggest what we believe are the most productive strategies for success in your custody case. If we take your case, we’ll pursue every issue important to you with dedication, perseverance, and the drive to win for you.