You will need to give evidence to the judge in court about your child, the other parent, and yourself. The judge will listen to everyone who testifies. 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 know about these particular things:
- your child’s relationship with you and with the other parent
- how well you communicate and make decisions with the other parent
- 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
- your parenting skills and the skills of the other parent that you have observed
- how much care each parent provides for your child
- your ability to provide your child with a safe and stable place to live
- any abuse
Some of these ideas are described in more detail below.
Your Child’s Relationship with You and with the Other Parent
Can you and the other parent 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.
Do each of you help your child have a good relationship with the other parent? Tell the judge that you are willing and able to help your child have a good relationship with the other parent. Give examples of how you have fostered their relationship, such as encouraging regular contact.
Making Decisions and Communicating with the Other Parent
A parent needs to be able to talk to and listen to the other parent whenever possible. Give the judge examples of times you and the other parent have worked well together in your child’s best interests. How have you handled difficult decisions? If the other parent harmed or threatened you or your child, see our “Abuse and Best Interests of the Child” section below.
Your Child’s Relationships with Others
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 she had to move or change schools? How have you and the other parent helped your child have good relationships? How will you help your child keep these relationships in the future?
Things the judge may consider about your child’s important relationships:
- where you live
- where the other parent lives
- how far it is between where you and the other parent live
- where your child goes to school
- your child’s school schedule
- your work schedule
- the other parent’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? Be sure to tell the judge how old your child is. Tell the judge about any special needs or disabilities your child has. Explain how you and the other parent 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 without help. Caring for your child includes:
- taking your child to the doctor, school or other activities
- protecting your child
Providing a Safe and Stable Place to Live
Normally, a parent must be able to provide the child with a safe and stable place to live in order to get custody. The court will usually order the parent who doesn’t have custody to pay child support. (This is true whether or not the other parent has visitation rights.) The child support helps the parent who has custody to keep up a home for the child.
A safe and stable home is not necessarily a fancy home or a home with lots of things for the child. Making a safe and stable home includes:
- making sure your child has proper food, clothing and other things he needs
- getting your child where she needs to be on time and picking her up
- paying rent or mortgage and utility bills
Do you want to learn more about custody and visitation? Visit our Child Custody and Visitation page.