Introduction

Woman in child custody hearingMost judges understand the importance of child custody hearings, but do not enjoy conducting them. This is because these hearings often devolve into two parents accusing each other of bad behavior and harmful habits and touting themselves as being the better parent. Even though such hearings are supposed to be about the best interest of the child, it is common for the couple’s child to almost be an afterthought.

Courts are tasked with the sometimes difficult and unenviable task of sorting through the “noise” in these hearings to determine what is in the best interest of the child. If you believe the child’s best interest involves residing primarily with you, then you will want to be sure not to utter the following five statements:

  1. “I was only …” If the court or other parent accuses you of bad behavior, most courts are not interested in excuses for the behavior. A sentence that begins with the phrase “I was only” or “Let me explain” is likely to be viewed as an excuse – an attempt at minimizing the behavior. Instead of attempting to excuse or minimize the behavior, either acknowledge or deny the accusation. If the accusation is not true, say so and let that be your answer. If the accusation is true, acknowledge the truth of the accusation and be prepared to explain the circumstances if the court asks for this information. If the accusation is partly true, acknowledge what is true about the accusation and correct any inaccurate information.
  2. “But he (or she) …” Attempting to point out the bad qualities of the other parent in an attempt to win custody of your child rarely works in your favor. Most judges assume that each parent has good qualities as well as negative qualities – reasons why they should be granted custody and reasons why they should not be granted custody. As a result, spending your time highlighting the negative qualities of the other parent means you have little time to highlight your own good qualities. Trust that if the other parent has glaring issues that suggest he or she should not be granted custody – felony convictions or prior involvement in child abuse cases – this information can be brought to the attention of the judge quickly and need not be dwelled upon. Instead, the court will be particularly interested in how you will parent your child and why this parenting method would be in the child’s best interest.
  3. (Anything with a raised tone of voice): Child custody hearings are often emotional, and it is easy to “lose your cool” – especially if the other parent is accusing you of things that are not true or dragging up the past. However, raising your voice and becoming angry does more harm to your position than good. Some judges may see your angry outburst as an inability to control your temper, which in turn reflects poorly on your ability to effectively parent your child.

No Sure Things in Your Child Custody Case

There is no way to predict with 100 percent certainty how a court will rule in a child custody case. It is possible for a parent to avoid uttering any of the three phrases described above, present compelling reasons showing why the court should place the child with him or her, and still not “win” his or her custody battle. However, the more reasonable a parent appears and the more focus a parent places on his or her child’s wellbeing (and how that wellbeing is fostered by being placed primarily with him or her), the better that parent’s chances of obtaining a favorable result.