Much like a divorce or broken relationship that separates a family, custody battles are painful ordeals often filled with anger and embitterment. Keeping your child's best interests in mind may be difficult when you are under attack by the other parent or when mediation fails when parents cannot come to a mutual agreement. In such instances, you will need ample preparation to convince a family court judge that you should be the custodial parent.
Focus on how you are the better custodial parent for your child's long-term upbringing rather than on all the ways the child's other parent is unfit. Family court judges are not interested in hearing negative statements or a war of words. The court has been petitioned only to determine your child's best interests. Although you will surely have your opportunity to express your concerns regarding your ex's parenting skills, keep in mind that family court cases do not usually respond well to displays of vengeance. Be prepared to honestly respond to any shortcomings that your child's other parent may bring up about you, though. The purpose of custodial hearings is to thoroughly examine both parents, so do not assume that the judge will automatically favor one of you above the other, regardless of how obvious it may seem to you.
Write, journal, log, list and document. Your credibility will stand out as part of your character. If you are fumbling over conflicting statements that don't quite add up, your honesty is likely to be discredited. Spewing emotion over a long story during a hearing could keep you from making your point. Don't rely on your memory. Refer to a list and bring only verifiable and genuine documentation to be submitted as evidence, such as original police reports and school records. If your ex is often late picking up or returning your child, log the dates and times so that you have specific examples.
Conduct research. While you may think you know everything about the child's other parent, there may be relevant information that has occurred since your relationship's end or perhaps even things that you never knew about, such as an arrest record. In addition, talking with your child's teacher and counselor may provide insight regarding whether they believe your child is, or is not, thriving in her current living arrangement. Don't interrogate individuals to scrape up a witness in your favor. Rather, discuss your concerns and ask those close to your child for honest feedback. If your ex is truly an unfit parent, many responsible adults will share information to help you proceed with your case.
Hire an experienced attorney. While the cost may be overwhelming, the benefit of having legal representation in family court far outweighs the consequence of falling victim to a legal loophole. Most states have some form of legal aid available to assist in legal costs, although this is usually based on income.
Join a support group for child custody situations. An online discussion forum such as divorcesource.com is an excellent resource for networking with other parents who have been through, or are currently experiencing, similar situations. While it is illegal for anyone other than an attorney to actually give legal advice, sharing experiences can make the difficult journey of building your custody case seem less agonizing when you know you are not alone.