Moore, Bryan, Schroff & Inoue LLP



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When Custody is an Issue

Sharon A. Bryan
Moore, Bryan, Schroff & Inoue LLP
Torrance, California

What to do when custody is contested or when you just need to work out a parenting plan:

  1. Hire an experienced lawyer with common sense and a knowledge of the law, who has the respect of the courts in custody matters.
  2. Listen to your lawyer and follow her or his advice.  Don’t do what your instincts tell you to do without letting your lawyer know.  At all costs, avoid acting out of anger.  Before you send that angry e-mail, let it cool off overnight.
  3. Don’t expect to "win" at the first hearing, when the judge is looking at you and the other parent for the first time, with a courtroom full of people, and no way to assess who is telling the truth, the better parent, and so forth.  Expect the court to be neutral and deferential to both parents at first.  The Family Code says that frequent and continuing contact with both parents is in the best interest of the child.  Finding the truth usually takes time.  If there are problems, it can take time for the court to recognize them.
  4. Propose a parenting plan that shows the judge you recognize the importance of the other parent.
  5. Don’t make a big deal of picayune complaints about the other parent.
  6. If there are major problems such as drug addiction, impaired parenting or the like, let your lawyer bring them to the court’s attention.  These allegations require admissible evidence.  Your allegations alone aren’t enough for the court to base an order on.
  7. Never directly or indirectly try to alienate the child from the other parent.  For example:
    • Don’t have the kids make lists of what they hate about the
      other parent.
    • Don’t have the kids use a garden hose on the other parent
      when he or she comes to pick up some personal clothes and belongings (yes, it’s happened).
    • Don’t discuss your views of the other parent’s shortcomings with the kids.
    • No matter how much your instincts tell you to report your
      soon-to-be-ex to the Department of Child and Family
      Services ("DCFS"), or to your therapist who is a mandated
      reporter, talk to your lawyer first.  Specious claims will
      improve the other parent’s position and hurt yours.  Calling
      the DCFS can cause the case to end up in Juvenile Court,
      with disastrous results for everyone involved.
    • Don’t get mad if your child decides to stay with the other
      parent for awhile and don’t act in ways that hurt your child
      and your chances of custody.  Don’t write the basketball
      coach and tell him not to forward the season schedule to
      you because your son is living with the other parent.  Do
      ensure that you receive all schedules, announcements,
      report cards and after-school announcements.  Attend your
      child’s activities even if the child isn’t living with you.  Try
      to arrange one-on-one time with your child while he or she
      is with the other parent, like a dinner date, a lunch date, a
      shopping trip, or helping with homework.
  8. Hang on.  To paint the full picture of what parenting plan is in the child’s best interest takes time.
  9. Make sure that every e-mail you send to the other parent appears friendly and reasonable, because sooner or later it will be read by the judge.