By: Sarah McCain
When an initial allocation of parental responsibilities, or more commonly known as a “custody” case, is filed involving your child or children, it is possible that you are caught off guard. However, in most cases, disagreements between parents or a natural unraveling of a relationship will give you a good heads up that a case is on the horizon. It may also be a modification of the current situation wherein you are filing the request to the court to make a change. In these circumstances, it is important to make sure that you are one hundred percent ready to proceed in what will likely be a difficult case. This includes being ready both with your arguments and for the emotional strain that can take place not only on you, but on your kids as well. Preparing for a Colorado child custody case entails so much more than just filling out forms and filing them with the court. Are you ready?
Initially, it is probably best to sit down with a family law attorney to discuss your specific situation. An experienced attorney may be able to direct you as to what documentation or evidence you should be compiling and what individuals you should start including in your life to ensure that you are able to make a solid argument. For example, if you are making an argument that the children are suffering emotionally due to the parenting time of the other parent, it is important to note that proving emotional harm can be difficult. Having a therapist on board seeing your child or children before the motion is filed may be beneficial for you. A therapist is then prepared to support you in court through testimony, written reports, or interaction with a child custody expert. Child custody cases can involve a great amount of thought, detail, evidence, and preparation. Making sure you are prepared is a step in the right direction.
Another common hypothetical is when one parent is making an allegation of alcohol or drug use as a concern. If you believe these to be nothing more than attempts to improperly keep the child(ren) from you, then begin taking drug or alcohol tests. One of the best ways to shut down an argument of this nature is to walk into court with a stack of clean tests to show the court that these allegations are completely unfounded. It takes the strength out of the other party’s argument. There are a variety of tests in this area, so speaking to a professional as to which test is best for your situation is ideal.
Now, throughout your case, it is important to make sure that you are minding all of your actions. When the eyes of the court are on you, it is not the time to let your emotions get the best of you. This can be difficult as custody cases are often very high anxiety situations, especially when one party is attacking everything you are as a parent. It is often helpful for parties to have a third party to talk to, such as a therapist. Children also often benefit from continued therapy during these matters as the stress or anxiety of these situations does not exist in bubbles, kept completely separate from them. If the court issues interim or temporary orders, it is important to ensure that they are followed to the letter. If the court sees that you have taken their statements or orders to heart and are ensuring that they are followed makes a good impression. If you go into a permanent orders (final orders) hearing having ignored some or any of the court’s orders, the judge will not take kindly to that and will likely let you know their displeasure via orders contrary to your wishes. That is not the impression you want to make. For example, I have recently heard of a Denver child custody case in which the court ordered supervised time for a short period, to then increase to unsupervised time. That individual decided to skip the supervised portion and simply wait it out until the unsupervised time was set to start. This is not a good idea. It will only keep you from seeing your children for a longer period of time and the court will question your decision and motives. It is important to keep in remember that child custody cases can be lengthy, perhaps several months, and are not generally resolved overnight. Keeping this in mind may assist in getting through a difficult process and maintaining the proper modes of action to ultimately prevail.
In Part 2 of this article, I will focus on gathering and preserving evidence ahead of time. Being prepared at all phases of a family law case matters and planning can correlate with appropriate outcomes.