Even if you were able to negotiate most of the terms of your divorce settlement, it is not uncommon for spouses to reach an impasse when it comes to matters of parenting their children. As a result of psychological research around divorce, family courts in California and across the country generally recognize that it is best for children when both parents share in the parenting process as equally as possible. If this is not a plan that makes you comfortable, it will take some effort to convince the court that this conventional wisdom doesn’t apply in your case.
Seeking sole custody carries two important burdens. You must prove to the court that your former spouse is unfit, or you must demonstrate that your children are at risk of serious harm at the hands of the other parent. It is not sufficient to show that you are closer to the children or that you are more sensitive to the children’s needs. The key is producing credible evidence, usually by an expert witness, that it would be best for the children to give parental decision-making to just one parent and/or have a child live mostly or entirely with one parent.
What evidence do I need?
The day you walk into court for your custody hearing, all the other participants should already have received the documentation you plan to present. This means you must prepare quickly and thoroughly. As soon as you separate, it is always a smart idea to begin keeping a log of when your children spend time with each parent. That log may become a vital piece of evidence, which will include:
- Dates and times of any phone calls between your children and the other parent
- Details about how long the calls lasted
- Dates and times of visits between your children and the other parent
- Details about how long they spent together
- Notations of times when your ex-spouse was scheduled to call or visit and failed to or was late
- Statements from teachers about your children’s performances, particularly if there is a notable difference in academic performance or behavior after spending time with the other parent when compared to spending time in your home.
- Statements from coaches, friends and neighbors about interactions they witnessed between your children and their other parent (or with you)
- Medical reports if you suspect physical abuse
Don’t forget to seek statements regarding your own parenting and the relationship you have with the children.
In highly contested cases, the court will typically order a custody evaluation by a psychologist to make a recommendation to the Court about an appropriate parenting schedule. These evaluations are time consuming, expensive, and typically report both good and bad parenting behavior on by each parent.