So much to know
You may hear a friend, family member, or even a coworker talk about her custody struggles here and there, but there is so much to know about going through a custody battle and even how to go about filing for custody.
This is in no way, shape, or form legal advisement.
I am not a lawyer, I am not giving legal advice. I am simply giving you a little bit of insight on the inner workings of a custody battle. In addition, the law may be different for your state, your situation, and circumstances. There are also other ways to handle a custody battle. I am in the state of Virginia. I am the one who engaged the court in my child’s custody situation and this is based on my experience. Continues on the next pages…
What do you want?
Before going to court it would be best to sit down and write all the reasons you believe you should have what you want for your child. For example, if you want joint custody, full custody, primary custody, etc, you should begin by making a sort of Pros and Cons list. This list for the beginning stages should ONLY include facts, not opinions nor assumptions. For example: I should have primary custody because: I am the child’s primary caregiver, the child lives with me, and my work schedule allows me to spend more time with him. Cons list would be more of why the opposite parent should not have primary custody—for example: the other parent is on drugs, he does not have a steady job to provide for the child, does not have their own place to live, has a record with the law, does not spend time with the child, etc.
Make sure you know the legal terms to make sure you are asking for the right thing for your child, meaning: make sure you understand the difference between joint custody, legal custody, and primary custody.
Google is your best friend.
Make sure you use Google as much as you possibly can. Google is your best friend in this pre court stage. After you Google the different types of custody and know what you will be asking the courts for, search for a lawyer. Google every lawyer in your city and surrounding cities if possible. Lawyers are absolutely expensive—that goes without saying. First Google lawyers, then call every lawyer that pops up and make sure you keep track of their name and number, especially if you are leaving a message.
Consulting: I started by asking the receptionist if the lawyer gives free consultations. During the consultation, it is best to have a written list of questions ready to ask in order to save time as well as the list of why the opposing party should not have custody of the child in order to give them the best full picture that you can within the hour they allot you. Some of the questions I had included: Do you accept payment plans? What is your retention fee? What is your hourly fee? How much overall will this cost? With the facts I have presented you, do you think what I am asking for my child (primary custody) is viable… In other words, can I win with what I have? What are the steps to getting what I want? Etc.
First and foremost, I cannot stress enough how important this is, write everything down.
- Keep a journal with everything dated on everything relevant to your child. For example: if the other parent does not pick up the child as agreed, the child comes home smelling like smoke, the opposite parent yells at you in front of the child, lies about something important and you can prove it, the child tells you something negative or illegal that the other parent did, etc. These are all case by case suggestions, but write everything down.
- Record: It is very important to know the recording laws in your state. That being said, record everything you can. Every time you just interact with the other party, record the conversation. Through recording, I have been able to get more and more evidence to support my case—whether it is the way the person talks to you or cuss words he uses around the children, or of course if they are threatening or harming you.
- Take pictures/ screenshots: If your child(ren) is being dropped off in clothes that don’t fit, dirty hair, fingernails, bruises, etc., take pictures of everything. Screenshots are pretty self explanatory—make sure you keep the nasty text messages, or the ones that show the other party is not responsible or caring for your child when they are supposed to be. For example, if your child is sick and the parent tells you they are not giving the child medicine, or if the opposing party tells you the child is at the babysitters so they can go shopping, hang out with friends, go fishing, etc. Another thing you may consider is taking screenshots of relevant social media posts—say if they post a picture smoking with your child in the back seat or they post something saying something negative about your child on a public platform.
Once you find a lawyer or decide that you are absolutely making this a legal matter, the paperwork must begin. Either you or a lawyer can begin the paperwork process. If you decide to file for custody without a lawyer, then you can simply go down to your city courthouse and use the directory or the receptionist to ask questions, which is exactly what I decided to do. I went down to the courthouse and asked the receptionist where I would go to file for custody and was able to fill out all of the paperwork myself. If you decide to have your lawyer do this for you, their fee may be a bit higher than if you were to file for yourself. Of course, make sure you have copies of the paperwork regardless of who is filing the paperwork.
Everything you record, make sure you write down what the recording proves, the date and time. Keep all of the court paperwork in your files as well. Print out the pictures and screenshots if possible. Also include any sort of school or medical paperwork that you find is relevant to the court’s decision. For example, your insurance coverage, late bills if the opposite party is the one paying, or even school reports about your child that may be a result of the other parent’s doing.