Letters of recommendation are most common in child custody cases in family court. You might want to recommend that a friend not have to pay alimony or that your sister should get the house in the divorce, but these issues are largely decided by dollars-and-cents facts. Which parent is best suited to raise and care for the children can be more of a gray area.
Judges in every state look to the best interests of the child, and this can be a matter of opinion. Family, friends, neighbors and coaches – anyone who has frequently observed the interaction between parent and child – can provide a judge with insight.
Read More: How to Write a Character Reference for Child Custody
What’s Your Goal?
The purpose of a recommendation letter is to tell the court why you think a parent should be granted custody of his child. Your opinion and knowledge can give a judge an intimate glimpse into family dynamics that the court might not otherwise be privy to.
It’s important that you have firsthand knowledge of the family. Don’t make assumptions, and don’t agree to write a letter of recommendation if you have any doubts at all.
What the Court Wants to Know
You can assume that the judge already knows how many hours each parent works, how often they’re available for the child, and whether either of them have any sort of criminal record, mental health issues or substance abuse problems. What the court might not have – and what you want to provide – is information about the relationship between the parent and the child.
Judges tend to be reluctant to dramatically change a child’s life because her parents are breaking up. They try to maintain the child's status quo as much as possible. The judge will therefore want to know which parent was the child’s primary caretaker when the parties were together. Depending on the age of the child, this can include things like:
- Which parent typically got up in the middle of the night to oversee potty call or to fetch the child a glass of water?
- Who usually had homework duty, making sure it was properly completed and that it wasn’t left behind during the mad rush to school in the morning?
- Which parent regularly attended the child’s sporting events, if any?
- Who tended to bath time?
- Who usually took the child to dental and doctor appointments?
Content and Format
The standard rules apply here: Make sure the date and the name and address of the individual you’re addressing appears at the top. If you don’t know the judge’s name, use the name and address of the court and open the letter with “To Whom It May Concern.”
Begin the content by identifying yourself and explaining your relationship with the parent and child, as well as how long you’ve known them. Follow this with a paragraph or two explaining why you think this parent has historically been the child’s primary caregiver, and give examples. The last paragraph should be dedicated to a statement to the effect that you believe this parent should have custody – make it clear why you’re writing the letter.
Be sure to include all your contact information after your name and signature at the end, in case the court wants to reach out to you for more information.
Some Other Tips
You might be writing about a weighty subject, but keep your tone light and conversational. Leave formal and legal jargon out.
Try your best to keep the whole letter no longer than a page.
And finally, leave the other parent out of it. Don’t criticize the parent or go off on a tangent about any perceived shortcomings. That’s a job for the lawyers should they choose to undertake it.