Long gone are the days that mothers have a leg up on fathers because of the Tender Years’ Presumption. This presumption was that infants and perhaps toddlers were better served in their mother’s custody. Now fathers obtain physical and legal custody or are successful in the modification of custody with some frequency. Basically, it all comes down to the evidence the Court receives to determine what is in the child’s best interest. This blog covers the top six things fathers can do to maintain custody or prevail in custody modification by keeping or developing the evidence necessary for the Court to make such an award or reach such an agreement outside of Court:
- Spend time with your child. Fathers need to be aware of how much time they spend with their child. This is one of the most important aspects of child custody litigation. Even if you are not physically with your child as much as you would like, calling them or communicating with them in whatever way possible demonstrates that you have a strong relationship with them or are at least motivated and willing to improve the relationship. With technology, there are numerous ways even parents located across the country or world can stay in touch, such as by Skype. A parent who seeks custody should have frequent communications with his or her child. In some cases, this may be a mother’s efforts to prevent such communication which could be a key point in your custody case, as the parent most willing to facilitate the other parent’s parenting time, is a preferred custodial parent.
- Keep accurate records. Fathers must keep accurate records. The ability to prove that you have a strong relationship with your child is key to these types of disputes. One example is keeping an accurate schedule of when the Father has visited the child. These may range from handwritten diaries to computer calendars. If you later need to establish your time with your child in court, it is impossible to so do without some record. Don’t lose or impair your case because you didn’t keep records.
- Pay your child support. Making regularly scheduled child support payments is hugely important, not only does it show the Court you can provide for your child, but it also demonstrates the ability to keep and maintain this type of ongoing responsibility for your child. If there is an informal support agreement between the Mother and Father, the Father should keep an accurate accounting of his payment’s, examples include receipts or some form of written indication that Father is making support payments. The best way is to pay support to the clerk so there is no dispute if the funds are a gift or child support. A lot of Father’s struggle with support, if you are in that situation you should seek a modification or provide as much as you are able to. If you lose a job or have a drastic reduction in pay, discuss it with your counsel. Child support can only be retroactively modified to the date of filing. So if you do not file, you could wind up with a large arrearage that paints you as a “deadbeat dad”. The Court has no discretion to modify child support back beyond the petition.
- Be involved in your child’s life. Fathers should stay involved in their child’s life outside of regular parenting time. What does this mean? Attend your child’s social events such as sports or school functions. Go to parent-teacher conferences. Participate in doctor and dentist appointments. This is what Courts look for to see what custody arrangement is in a child’s best interests. This involvement can be the key evidence to demonstrate to a Court that the Father has a “meaningful” relationship with his child. Be involved.
- Maintain adequate living space. Fathers should have an adequate space for the child to call their own while at the Father’s home. The size of the home doesn’t matter as long as the child has their own proper living accommodations. The Court will inquire about adequate living arrangements at your home. Taking photographs of the child’s room is an example of maintaining accurate records as well. This is also key evidence you may use at trial if there is a question. Having a child sleep on a sofa in a bachelor’s pad is not what the Court’s are likely to rely on determining if custody or modification is in you in your child’s best interests.
- Be prepared to win custody. For many fathers who desperately want custody and should have it, they trip at trial and are not prepared for the Court to award them custody. What does this mean? In essence, they cannot answer the questions asked by opposing counsel or the Court to evidence they are able to meet the child’s needs. Be able to explain or illustrate the child’s living situation and community. Know the school if there would be a change. Be able to list the names of teachers, doctors, and friends. This demonstrates to the Court that you have thought about the future and are the proper parent to award custody to—this is the child’s best interest standard and what the Court looks for.
We hope you as a father (or mother) find this blog post useful in learning key evidence to maintain and advance your position as a father for primary custody in the initial determination or through a modification proceeding. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates represent fathers in child custody litigation throughout the state who wrote this blog. This blog is intended for general educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.