7 Tips for Winning Child Custody in Family Court
In the state of California, any parent who files a motion to establish or modify child custody or visitation must go to Family Court Services before a judge or commissioner will hear their case. The purpose of Family Court Services is to help the parents come to their own agreement with regards to child custody and time sharing. Some counties are “confidential” counties, where if the parents cannot come to an agreement, Family Court Services will not write a recommendation for the judge. San Francisco County is confidential.
Other counties are “recommending counties,” meaning, if the parents cannot come to an agreement, an evaluator with Family Court Services will make a recommendation for child custody and visitation that the court will most likely adopt. Marin County and Sonoma County are recommending counties.
Whether or not you live in a county where there will be a recommendation made to the court, it is always important that you put your best food forward, so you can achieve the situation you want.
What the evaluator is looking for:
The evaluator wants parents to understand the needs of their children. The “ideal” parent both interacts lovingly with their children, and will discipline them when necessary. The “ideal” parent is not a “helicopter” parent – children need roots as well as wings. The recommender also wants to see that a parent can work with the other parent in an effective manner, and is able to move beyond spite and hostility. They want to know that a parent is supportive of the children’s close relationship with the other parent.
Understand the process:
The evaluator will meet with and interview the parents together. If there has been a history of domestic violence, parents will meet separately with the evaluator. Sometimes, a parent can get a separate interview by request. Some counties allow an attorney to attend this meeting, but Marin does not.
The length of time for the meeting will vary, but expect it to last about an hour. The evaluator will usually review any relevant pleadings that have been filed with the court. Then, the evaluator will write a report that addresses his or her observations. The final report may contain a combination of any or all of the following recommendations: Legal custody, physical custody, a Parenting Plan, and therapy for parents, the children or the entire family. They may also indicate provisions relating to specific issues, such as allegations of substance abuse or violence.
7 tips for putting your best food forward with Family Court Services:
1. Don’t make the mistake of trying to elevate yourself by putting the other parent down.
Try to resist the urge to focus on the other parent’s shortcoming. Instead, elevate yourself in the recommender’s eyes by: (a) focusing on the physical, mental and emotional needs of the child(ren); (b) demonstrating that you are attuned to, and can readily meet those needs; and (c) in most circumstances, showing that you are willing and able to foster the children’s positive relationship with the other parent.
2. Anticipate your ex’s criticisms of you, and try to neutralize them.
If you think that the other parent is going to say, for example, that you are a horrible parent, be ready. Dig out that Mother’s Day or Father’s Day card ahead of time that says you are the best parent on the planet. If the other parent will probably say that you are always late when picking your children up or dropping them off, bring a log showing that you are on time.
3. Do not lie, or stretch the truth.
If faced with a challenging question, be honest. You can say something like, ”Parenting can be challenging at times, but is also so rewarding.” You don’t want to say something like, “I love every minute of being a parent!” because the evaluator will see right through you.
4. Show that you know your child.
Make sure you are able to clearly articulate your child’s likes and dislikes, medical history, sleep patterns, names of teachers and coaches, their hobbies, their friends, and the names of their friends. This will help the evaluator understand how close you are to your children and how very important they are to you.
5. Know that social media can hurt you.
Never place pictures where you are drinking on Facebook or anywhere else. Don’t say how much you hate the other parent or anything else negative about him or her. Remember that you are always under the spotlight for your ability to provide a calm and stable home. Posting about all of your new personal interests or single status may undermine this. On that note, be careful about introducing new romantic partners on social media.
6. Do not leave a paper trail that can be used against you.
Your life will be under a microscope until your children are no longer minors. If you must take gambling vacations to Vegas, do not post it on social media.
7. And if there are tears…
Own up to your emotions, but don’t let them own you. If you start to cry, it’s okay. Take a deep breath, drink some water, and show the evaluator that even in the midst of real emotional difficulty, you have the ability and self-control necessary to put your children’s needs ahead of your own.
We can help you prepare:
If you are seeking to establish or modify child custody or visitation, please contact our office for a consultation. I can help you and your ex draw up a child custody and visitation agreement or modify the child custody agreement that you already have. If you and your ex cannot agree on child custody or visitation and you need Family Court Services to make a recommendation, I can help you prepare.
Please contact our office for a consultation
Marissa Major and Hillary Warren of Warren Major LLC are Marin County family law attorneys, specializing in divorce, child custody and support, marital contracts and other family law issues. If you are looking for honest, expert legal advice, please contact our office for a consultation
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