The following are suggestions to the client involved in a contested divorce case, motion to modify or paternity case in which custody or temporary custody is or may be at issue. Also, remember that there may be a request for change of custody or temporary custody in the future and therefore, the following suggestions should always be taken into consideration.
These suggestions are made for the present and future benefit of your children and your goal as a parent should always be to improve the children’s lives and to better provide for their needs.
Remember: Everything you do or do not do as a parent affects your children and their future.
1. Exercise your custody rights to the maximum, but always remain flexible to accommodate special circumstances relating to either the children or the other parent. Try to determine the real needs of your children and really listen to what they have to say, and equally importantly, what they are not saying. Do not attempt to become a private investigator and do not speak disparagingly of or belittle the other parent or stepparent, or any other significant person in your children’s lives. Enjoy the time you spend with the children and allow them to enjoy you and the time that they spend with you.
2. Regularly keep a journal or diary of events in order to remember and be able to point out dates, witnesses, facts, etc., pertaining to significant events and problems regarding the children. Maintain this diary in a secure place where it is not accessible to the children. Do not let the children know that you are keeping this diary.
3. Learn how to be a better parent. Begin by selecting, from the bookstore or library one or two books on child care, child raising, and parenthood that are written for parents of children of your children’s ages or any special needs they may have (for example, being children of divorce or having an absent parent suddenly reappear). If you are considering joint custody or if the other party is requesting joint custody, read some of the available books on the subject. Knowledge is power and it will help you make the best decisions for your children and yourself.
4. Be involved in all of your children’s activities, including school, sports, scouts, counseling, medical and dental care. Get to know those people who teach your children, run their extracurricular activities and care for them. Generate and maintain a genuine interest in these areas. Maintain communication with the other parent about these issues. If you feel excluded, take action to remedy the problem. Go to the school, attempt to get information from the other parent and document those requests by sending letters or e-mails and keeping copies for your files. Do not quiz the children. If you can not get the information you seek, talk to your attorney about the options that you have.
5. Attend the church or temple activities of your choice. Become active in the affairs and social activities of your church or temple. Get to know and be known by those who actively participate. Take the children with you to these activities and otherwise involve them whenever possible.
6. Develop a plan showing how you would provide care, love and guidance and meet the other needs of your children should you be awarded custody. If you have custody and are involved in a Motion to Modify, be able to speak on how you do so now. Examples: where the children would live, their daily routine, who would care for them when they are not in school and when you are not physically present; educational and religious plans; what visitation and custody plans you would work out for the other parent (be liberal in your thinking and planning); what custodial arrangement you ultimately wish to obtain. Develop a workable, reasonable, and logical daily routine for the care of your children and be able to point out how your plan, care, and attention to the needs of the children is better than the existing one and how it will be better for the children in the future.
7. Make a list of relatives, close friends, and neighbors who have been or will actively assist you in providing for the needs of the children. Enlist these people and involve them with you and the children. Have your children get to know these people and establish a meaningful relationship between these individuals, the children and yourself.
8. Make sure the physical facilities of your home are totally adequate for the children. Try to step outside yourself and view the situation from a neutral vantage point. Look at it with a critical eye to be able to realize where improvements and changes are needed and make them. A clean and well-organized home is necessary. The children must have adequate shelter, food, and around-the-clock care, attention, love, supervision and discipline. You will need to show your home surroundings are or will be beneficial for the children. If you have a pre-school aged child, consider contacting the “Parents As Teachers” programs run by your local school. It is free to all, and they are an excellent source of information and guidance.
9. If you will require daycare for your children, investigate several alternatives that will suit your particular circumstances. You should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each option, taking into account location, hours, level of care, reputation in the community, and, of course, cost. Be realistic about what you and the other parent can afford. The State of Missouri has a “Family Care Safety Registry” that may be accessed by calling toll-free 1-866-422-6872 or BJC offers a free booklet with tips on choosing a quality daycare that may be obtained by calling 314-454-KIDS or visiting
10. Develop common interests with your children and continue to be involved with those that already exist. Become a part of, share, and enjoy their world with them. Do not forget birthdays, Christmas, parent-child events at school or church and other special occasions that mean so much to children. Other than just gifts, you must give of yourself. Be an active parent, interested in their schoolwork, outside school activities, their sports, clubs, organizations, friends, and their plans for the future.
11. Make a study of the schools your children are or would be attending if living with you. Know and familiarize yourself with bus services or other transportation, hours of school, before and after school care, extra-curricular activities, etc., and have a good working knowledge of this important area of your child’s development. By law, each public school is required to produce a “school report card” with basic statistics about the school. Call the schools in your area and in the area where the other parent lives and get copies of these documents. Read them carefully and talk with school personnel if there is anything that you do not understand.
12. Obtain friends, relatives, neighbors, bosses, fellow employees, and church members who will be willing to testify in court as to your behavior patterns, reputation, responsibility, interaction and relationship with the children and general fitness as a parent. You will need to discuss this frankly with each of these people. Give us their names, addresses and telephone numbers and a brief statement as to what they are able and willing to testify to in the actual trial of your case. Advise us if you do not wish us to call them without first talking to you.
13. You need to honestly prepare a statement of constructive criticism of yourself and your spouse or former spouse, any stepparents or significant others in a stepparent role, as parents. Be fair and accurate, and put down facts and circumstances that can be proven or about which proof should be obtained. This statement tells why a change in custody is necessary or why you should retain custody. It should be detailed, and you should forward it to us as soon as possible. Remember that it is a sign that you are a good parent that you can admit that there are ways that you can improve as a parent.
14. Do not have members of the opposite sex to whom you are not related spending the night with you when the children are there. The court may consider this to be a negative factor when determining custody.
15. Have, maintain, and show an open healthy attitude toward visitation and custody of the other parent. The children need the love of both parents, and your own attitude in this respect is important to the children and will be given some weight by the court. The greatest gift that you can give your children as they grow up without both parents in the same home is the ability to love the other parent.
16. Your own emotional and physical health are important factors that will be considered by the court. It is important for you to be composed and in full control at all times and to be able to prove your maturity, responsibility, and self-management. Remember that actions speak louder than words and that there is no excuse for you to disagree disrespectfully with the other parent in front of the children or to discuss adult issues such as why you and the other parent are not together or the financial arrangements between the parents for the support of the children even f they ask or even if they have inaccurate information. Simply tell the children that both parents love them and that they will be taken care of and whatever issues they have are between the adults and that you will not discuss them. If this is a problem in your situation, talk to your attorney about your options.
17. It is important for you to be able to discuss in some detail your strengths and weaknesses as a parent and your spouse’s or former spouse’s strengths and weaknesses as a parent, as well as those of any step-parents or significant others. Remember, if your spouse did not have significant good points and strengths, you would not have had children with him or her. Similarly, you should be able to discuss your children’s strength and weaknesses in some detail. It is a positive attribute of a parent to be able to recognize both positive and negative in his or her children, him or herself and others.