You will need to give evidence to the judge in court about your child, your ex, and you. The judge will listen to the evidence you and your ex give about your family. The judge will use the evidence to decide what is in your child's best interests. Then the judge will decide about parental rights and responsibilities (also called custody and visitation).
The judge needs to hear information about your child, you, and your ex. The judge needs to know about these particular things:
- your relationship with your child
- how well you communicate and make decisions with your ex
- how you help your child have a good relationship with the other parent
- how you help your child keep up important relationships with family and friends
- your child's current housing, school, and community
- parenting skills
- how much care each parent provides for your child
- ability to keep up your home
- any abuse
Next we describe each of these things in more detail.
Your Child's Relationship with You and with Your Ex
Can you give your child love, affection and guidance? Guidance can mean different things. Is your child very young? Guidance may mean making good decisions for your child. Is your child older? Guidance may mean helping your child make good decisions for himself. Guidance may also mean setting limits for your child.
Making Decisions and Communicating with Your Ex
A parent needs to be able to talk to and listen to the other parent whenever possible. You should try to show the judge that you are willing and able to help your child have a good relationship with your ex. The judge also needs to know that you can talk to your ex about your child. What if your ex harmed or threatened you or your child? See our "Abuse and Best Interests of the Child" section below.
Your Child's Relationships with Relatives, Community, and School
What important relationships does your child have with relatives and other people? How are your child's home, community, and school helping your child? How would your child respond if he had to move or change schools? How have you and your ex helped your child have good relationships? How will you help your child keep these relationships in the future?
What the Judge May Consider About your Child's Important Relationships, Community and School:
- Where you live
- Where your ex lives
- How far it is between where you and your ex live
- Where your child goes to school
- Your child's school schedule
- Your work schedule
- Your ex's work schedule
- Your child's relationships with others (for example, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles)
- Your community
- Your child's needs
Who Is Your Child's Primary Caregiver?
Is your child very young? Does your child have special learning, emotional, or medical needs? Does your child have a disability? Tell the judge how old your child is. Tell the judge about any special needs or disabilities your child has. Explain how you and your ex have met your child's needs. Tell the judge who mainly cares for your child.
Caring for your child means doing things for your child that your child can't do himself. Caring for your child includes:
- taking your child to the doctor, school, or lessons
- protecting your child
If the judge decides that one parent is the primary caregiver, he will usually give that parent custody.
Keeping Up A Home
The court will usually order the parent who doesn't have custody to pay child support. The child support helps the parent who has custody to keep up a home for the child.
Can you give your child a safe, stable home? Making a safe and stable home includes:
- paying bills
- getting your child where she needs to be on time and picking her up
- making sure your child has proper food, clothing and other things she needs
Do you want to learn more about Custody and Visitation? Go to our Child Custody and Visitation page.