If you and your ex-spouse are not able to come to an agreement regarding custody of your children, you will both be required to attend a custody hearing. At this hearing, a judge will determine custody for your children.
You will want to prove to the court that you are the best choice when it comes to custody. Here are some things you should know – and do – before the hearing.
Which spouse made the first move?
The first step in any custody case is taken by making a written submission. This written submission will clearly outline what it is you are requesting from the court.
If you make your written submission before your ex does, you will want to include as much documentation as you can with the submission. The documentation will include the items discussed below.
If your ex-spouse makes a written submission before you do, he will include all of his own documents. According to Georgia law, you are required to receive a copy of his submission and all of the documents he includes with it.
You may then provide the court with written responses, along with your own written documents.
What documents should you include in your submission or response?
The most important document you should include is a visitation log. If your ex goes for long periods of time without visiting your child, or is inconsistent in his visitation, it can weigh heavily in your favor.
Another log you should include is a telephone log. Does your ex regularly communicate with your child via telephone and text? If not, it can show his lack of interest in being a responsible parent.
Keep a record of child support payments. It will reflect very poorly on your ex-spouse if he is consistently late making payments, or if he has stopped making payments altogether.
Academic records are another document to include. If your child does well academically while in your care, but not so well in your ex’s care, it’s just another indicator of which parent should be awarded primary custody.
Doctor records may be important in some cases. Does your child come home from visitation with injuries or bruises? Is he repeatedly having issues because he is not consistently being given his medications? Again, something a court will consider in determining custody.
Written testimonials from respected adults who know your child well – teachers, coaches, etc. – can paint a positive and objective picture for the judge of your relationship with your child.
Feel free to include anything else that you think would benefit your case. Your attorney might also have some documents that he would like you to include with the submission or response.
When should I start documenting these things?
Start documenting the items above right away, even before your divorce. You and your spouse may go through a separation prior to your divorce, and his actions regarding your child will be just as valid during the separation as they will be after your divorce.
Save the original documents
You’d be surprised how many parents submit original documents, which can be damaged or lost when in the possession of the court. Always submit copies and keep the originals in a safe place. You may want to bring another set of copies with you to the court hearing, just to be safe.
A custody battle is never enjoyable, but if you document your ex-spouse’s actions – and start documenting them early – you will be well-prepared for your court hearing.