No one is as near and dear to most parents as their children. As a result, when a couple decides to split, heartache often follows. Indeed, one of the most difficult realizations for a couple splitting up is that their children will likely have to divide their time between the parents. This can lead many people to wonder what steps they can take to increase the likelihood that they will be able to obtain custody of their kids.
The end of an intimate relationship is always challenging, regardless of whether the couple is married or has children together. Most of the time, living arrangements change, and there is usually property to be dealt with. There may even be common debts that must be divided in some way.
When a couple has children together, however, the stakes feel higher. Most of the time, both parents have close relationships with their children and don’t want those relationships to suffer. So naturally, each parent starts to think about how he or she can maximize time spent with the kids going forward. Most people think of that in terms of custody.
In reality, however, the issue is more complex. Parents have work schedules and kids often have school or day care schedules. Some times of the year are often seen as more important than others, such as family vacations, birthdays, and holidays. Not all time is necessarily equal.
As a result, it’s important to remember that most of the time, the goal is to have quality time with your children. This can come in the form of custody or visitation.
Every state’s laws are different when it comes to these issues, so for advice specific to your situation, consult a licensed attorney in your state. However, the discussion below will give you a general idea of the issues that often arise.
The Big Question: What Is in the Best Interest of Your Children?
In all states, the focus of courts making decisions about custody and visitation is on the best interest of the children. The issue of what is best for the kids overrides everything else, including what the parent or parents would like to happen. In fact, even if both parents agree about who should have custody and how visitation should work, their plan can be nixed entirely by a judge if the judge feels the plan is not in the children’s best interest.
As a result, if you want to enhance the likelihood that you will be granted custody of your children (or even liberal visitation), the best thing you can do is make it in your kids’ best interest to spend time with you.
For the most part, you should already be doing these things. If not, it’s time to take a hard look at yourself and see where you can make consistent improvement. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Do you have an adequate, clean place for the children to live or visit, including proper clothing and food?
- Are you able to provide for your kids financially? Emotionally?
- Do you set a good example for your kids?
- Do you have any bad habits, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, dangerous driving, or illegal drug use?
- Are your kids exposed to unhealthy or dangerous behaviors when they are with you through your circle of friends or family?
- Do you spend quality time with your kids and make bonding with them a priority in your life?
- Do you have any physical or mental issues that limit your ability to care for your children properly?
- Are you able to communicate and work with your children’s other parent? Schools? Extended family?
Most courts will also consider whether a parent has abused a child or other household members in making custody and visitation decisions. Another common consideration is the wishes of the child, particularly for teenagers.
When it comes to custody, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Every situation is different, although in every case, the focus will be on what is best for the children. As a result, your best bet as a parent is to align yourself and your household with what is best for your kids. Doing so gives you the best chance to maximize quality time with your kids, whether through custody or visitation.
It can also be helpful to work with the other parent toward the common goal of what is best for your kids. Remember that a judge ultimately gets to decide how custody and visitation will be handled. However, if the parents’ plan is reasonable and is in the best interest of the children, the court will usually approve the plan.
If you are faced with custody and visitation issues and don’t know where to turn, contact a licensed family law attorney in your state, who can explain your state’s laws and provide advice specific to your situation.