The following are basic guidelines to increase your chances of being awarded custody (allocation of parental responsibilities) or a good visitation (parenting time) schedule:
Maximize Your Time with Your Children. Spend as much time with your children as possible free of distraction. If you work a shift when your children are awake, or sleep when they are awake, this makes winning significant parental responsibilities difficult. Spend quality time with your children rather than less important things, such as TV, hobbies, or time with your friends without children. It is good to spend time with your friends with children. They make excellent witnesses of your interaction with your children. Do not smother your children or promise them expensive gifts, pets, or trips. Courts see through attempts to buy a child’s love.
Provide a Stable Home. Provide a safe happy home for your children. Avoid repeated moves or job changes. Family law judges hate change when things are going well. A frequent question is “Should I leave the home and go elsewhere?” Avoid doing so if you can stay safely. No party is required to leave a marital home unless kicked out by a court order finding domestic violence. Therefore, stay in the home and stay calm. Try not to move and change the child’s home, school, or community. If you must leave, take the children with you. Do not leave the children at home and move out. It will make it easy to argue the kids were not in a bad situation.
Follow All Court Orders. Do not disregard court orders and end up on a judge’s bad side. Do not have a child support arrearage. Courts look for easy ways to exclude a parent from an allocation of parental responsibilities determination. Owing child support is an easy way to do that and lose allocation of parental responsibilities.
Don’t Alienate the Other Parent from the Child. Allocation of parental responsibilities can be won and lost based upon one parent trying to become a wedge between the other parent and a child. Do not discuss legal issues, argue or badmouth the other parent in front of the child. Do not bring your child to court unless asked by your attorney first.
Be Positive. Don’t sling mud. Win your case based upon your positives, rather than the other side’s weaknesses. In order to win a case, a judge needs to be convinced that you are reasonable, and likable. Play fair, rather than heavy handed. An ideal allocation of parental responsibilities case is when there are two great parents who both love their children.
Know the Facts. Know the names and details of your child’s teachers, and health care providers. Review the facts of your testimony prior to testifying in court so your testimony is clear.
Be Organized. Life is complicated, especially with kids. Get and use a calendar. Keep track of dates and times of kids’ activities, and the times you have the children. It shows a judge you are able to plan ahead, effectively parent and get the job done. Keep a diary. Keep track of facts and details. Assume the other party will see it at some point, so be sure your comments are accurate.
Don’t Make Yourself a Target. Don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend during a divorce, but if you choose to complicate your life and case with this, do not expose your child to that relationship. Avoid relationships with felons, sex offenders and bad influences. Surround yourself with excellence. Protect your children from bad characters. Do not spend time with the boyfriend or girlfriend if you could spend time with the children. Stay off of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. There is too much mudslinging and inappropriate content that you cannot control. Avoid excessive use of alcohol, illegal drugs and criminal behavior. If you have a drug problem, alcohol problem, mental health problems, or health problems, get help. There is no shame in this. It shows strength rather than weakness. Avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Do not complicate your case.
Don’t Call DCFS or the Police, or Seek an Order of Protection Unless Absolutely Necessary. Contacting the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services may result in the kids being taken away, even if it is not your fault. It has happened to many people. Doing so places the power in the hands of a governmental agency whose agenda is different that your own. Don’t call the police unless a crime has been committed, simply to “make a record.” The police can only enforce criminal law. Battery, Violating an Order Of Protection, and Disorder Conduct are all crimes. Parenting Time Interference and Adultery are crimes too, but don’t expect enforcement. Don’t seek an Order of Protection without speaking to your attorney first.
Be a Parent, Not Necessarily a Friend to Your Child. You are a parent and your child is a child. Do not automatically do what they want. Do what is in their best interests. Children often play parents off one another. A frequent question is “when does a child get to decide who they want to live with or a parenting time schedule?’ The answer is “at age 18,” when they are adults.
Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney. Handling an allocation of parental responsibilities case yourself is like performing surgery on yourself. It can cause a big mess, and is likely to require costly and painful correction later on. An experienced family law attorney is likely to save you money and obtain a better result for you.
If you have any questions, please call Joseph M. Borsberry at Borsberry Law Offices, P.C., at (309) 637-9000 as a soon as possible.