In a child custody case, a judge or case evaluator may assess what is in the child's best interests to determine which parent should receive custody of your child. A parent might ask a neighbor, school teacher, caretaker, relative or other individual who has seen the child and parent interact to write a character reference letter to help sway the judge to give him custody of the child.
Say Who You Are
The opening of the reference letter should identify both you and your relationship to the person who asked you to write the letter. It's not necessary to state that the parent asked you to write the letter. In fact, letters from third parties who do not demonstrate a vested interest in the outcome – other than what is in the child's best interests – can be of great value in child custody cases. Rather than saying you are writing at the parent's request, you may want to use language that demonstrates your belief in the parent.
Cite the Parent's Attributes
Family courts and the individuals who work in the court system, like case evaluators or guardian ad litems, have the duty to determine what is in the best interest of the child. States consider the health, safety and welfare of the child in their considerations. In fact, about 21 states and the District of Columbia have lists of specific factors to determine what is in the best interest of the child. To make a compelling reference letter, you can review these factors and cite the parent's attributes that correspond to them best. For example, if the state considers the child's religious education to be important, you may wish to describe the child talking what he learned in Sunday school. If an important factor is which parent was the primary caretaker, a teacher could explain that the parent always picked up and dropped off the child from school, and was always called first when the child was sick.
Confirm the Relationship with Child
A good reference should serve as a witness that the parent-child relationship is warm, loving and stable. Recall events that demonstrate a strong relationship between the parent and child. For example, you could mention that the child always arrives to school on time and that you always see the parent playing with the child for a few minutes before leaving. You can also use anecdotes or short stories to demonstrate your view of the parent-child relationship. For example, you may talk about how a parent took time off to come to a school project in which parents discussed their careers.
Include a Strong Closing
A good conclusion to a reference letter states directly which parent you believe is best to have custody of the child and reiterates some of the parent's attributes that have led you to this conclusion. Include your complete contact information to the bottom of the letter, as well as the best times you can be contacted for additional information.
Things to Watch Out For
A good reference letter should focus on the strengths of one parent, not the negative traits of the other. Negatively discussing the other parent's failings may make the letter seem more biased and less objective. It's also important to keep your letter factual, based on your direct personal observations rather than things others have told you. Flowery language, such as "please look into your hearts," or discussing your own religious beliefs or philosophy is not appropriate. The reference letter should be factual, concise and even-handed.