While accomplishing your goal of winning primary custody of your children or grandchildren in a custody battle can be extremely challenging, there are many “to-dos” that can help your chances. Similarly, there are several big “don’ts” you must abide by, as well.
Today’s post shares a few of the best things you can do to help yourself in a contentious custody case, whether that case is part of divorce proceedings or another family issue. Number one on that list? Work with a caring, compassionate, and experienced attorney who is well-versed in family law, from custody issues to guardianship of minor children.
The Best Way to Win a Custody Battle? Don’t Start One.
Before we go further, it’s important to note that the best way to win a custody battle is not to wage one in the first place. Custody battles can be emotionally devastating to the parties involved, causing irreparable damage to the very family relationships you are attempting to maintain. The overall welfare and interest of the child or children at the center of your custody issue must be prioritized. Period. And that means minimizing fighting and settling issues out of court, if at all possible.
To-Do: Make Sure You Understand Pennsylvania’s Child Custody and Visitation Laws
An overabundance of myths is always circulating out in “the wild” about our Commonwealth’s child custody laws. You must be able to sort these custody myths from facts.
As you approach a potential custody battle over your children or grandchildren, it’s significant to remember that the law typically presumes it is in the best interest of a child to have a relationship with both of their surviving biological parents. If there are reasons this is not the case—drug use/substance abuse by one or both parents, a parent’s violent/abusive temperament, etc.—these must be proven to the court.
We detail the typical child custody process on our Custody Law information page here on the MHG Law website, which you should review. This includes the essential first step of participating in a conciliation conference to attempt to settle your custody complaint without resorting to a custody hearing. A custody hearing may come across as “shots fired” in an all-out custody battle or war, and you do not want to get to that point.
A Note About Challenging Standing
When suing or being sued for custody by someone who is not a biological parent, you will need to be aware of a legal concept known as standing. This is mainly so you can challenge it, as needed, within a very limited time window.
As we discussed in a previous blog article, standing refers to the right of a particular person to file a case in court. Grandparents are the most frequent parties to encounter standing issues in a child custody matter. What a grandparent needs to show depends greatly on what type of custody they are seeking. If only seeking visitation of a grandchild, then it is generally easier to get standing. If seeking primary physical custody, then it is more complex.
The Pennsylvania statute granting grandparents standing has been modified and changed numerous times over the past couple of years. The attorneys at MHG have been consistently involved in all aspects of the changes to grandparent standing.
If you have received this type of custody complaint from your child’s grandparent or another individual in or outside your family, or if you are a grandparent seeking custodial rights, it is critical that you contact a custody attorney for guidance immediately.
To-Do: Work with An Experienced Custody Lawyer
At the first sign of difficulties with custody arrangements in your family, it’s well worth it to pick up the phone and discuss your concerns with a custody lawyer. We cannot reiterate this key “to-do” enough.
Let us help you!
If you’re worried about the cost, know that your initial phone consultation will be free of charge. Plus, allowing us to work with you from the start of a custody issue can save you significant heartache and financial cost over the long term.
To-Do: Approach Hearings as a Last Resort to Settling Custody Issues
As we touched on above, when a custody complaint is filed—and it does not have an agreement attached between the parties outlining what is best for their child or children—the court (in Lancaster County) will require a conciliation conference between the parties and a mediator to set such an agreement. Use this conference—and any follow-up conferences—to work through your differences.
Avoiding a formal custody hearing in a courtroom before a judge is the goal. Custody hearings are typically unpleasant, with much negative evidence being raised about each parent or other family members. Emotions run high in these scenarios, and already strained relationships are often damaged beyond repair. Additionally, your children will be called to speak during the hearing, as the well-reasoned preference of the child is a mandatory factor that the court must consider. This can be a harrowing experience no child needs to go through.
Don’t Believe the Myths About Biased Custody Judges
Going back to our Custody Law information page, there is a spot of good news when it comes to one of parents’ biggest fears regarding custody—the belief that judges are biased toward the mother in child custody cases. Don’t believe this persistent myth.
Judges take their duty seriously to apply the law without gender or other biases when the facts are adequately presented and arguments are logical. Mothers and fathers enter the child custody process on a level playing field in today’s legal system.
Don’t Fight With Your Ex or Other Family Members – Keep It Civil, Especially on Social Media
This may sound obvious, but fighting—even if it never escalates to a physical altercation—can irreparably damage your custody case. Especially if you’ve reached the point where you’re definitely going to be participating in a formal custody hearing, you need to be on your best behavior around everyone involved, no matter how angry you are.
You’ll also want to be careful about what you say regarding the situation in front of your children. Since they may have to give testimony in court, you do not want to put them in an awkward position when they are sworn to tell the truth in front of the judge.
And it cannot be stressed enough not to state anything about the custody action on any social media. Too often, the proverbial (and often damning) “Exhibit A” is how one parent or a family member posted some derogatory statements on social media about the other parent. Judges are never endeared by the lack of restraint by a parent.
Facing a Custody Battle? Don’t Go It Alone.
May, Herr & Grosh is Lancaster County’s most compassionate and skilled local law firm for custody issues and other family law matters. Our client-focused approach means we are always accessible and responsive as we support you through some of life’s most emotionally challenging and stressful experiences. Don’t face a difficult custody situation alone. Get a free phone assessment of your case when you contact us today.