While the divorce rate in the UK may have remained relatively steady since 2010, the fact that 42% of marriages end acrimoniously there remains a source of genuine concern. Regardless of whether this is the result of infidelity, incompatibility or unreasonable behavior on the side of one or both partners, the impact can be significant, especially for any children involved. According to the Office for National Statistics, 48% of all divorced couples had at least one child aged under 16 living within the family, meaning that a significant number of youngsters are affected by marital breakdowns every single year in the UK.
The divorce rate is a major issue in many other countries as well, and it remains the responsibility of parents to ensure that any subsequent custody battle does not impact negatively on their child’s psyche. Fortunately, there is a wealth of expert advice available to parents who are seeking custody of their child, which can help them to pursue a course that serves the best interests of all parties.
With this in mind, let’s consider the fundamental components of a custody battle, and the tools that can help parents to achieve their goals in an amicable and productive manner:
1. A Clear Set of Goals and Targets from the Outset
Knowing what you want to achieve from custody proceedings and matching this expectation with the reality of your situation is a key starting point for anyone embarking on this process. From the beginning you need to fight as hard as you can to receive as much time as possible with your children. Whether it is full or shared custody, or greater visitation time that you seek to achieve, the overriding factor here is to analyze and ensure the outcome you want is an achievable goal.
2. A Level Head
Custody battles may produce an unpleasant reaction from your former partner, and this behavior may well manifest away from the court room. It is therefore crucial to remember that you are an adult who strives to set an example for your children, so never rise to the bait and keep a level head at all times. By controlling your emotions, retaining the ability to think clearly, and defending yourself in a calm and assertive manner, you can create a favorable impression, both on your legal representation and the judge who oversees your case.
3. Reputable and Empathetic Legal Representation
Regardless of the precise circumstances of your case or the subjective ideals of right and wrong, you cannot hope to win custody of your children without sound and reputable legal representation. Not only must your legal team have considerable experience in the field of family law, it is also important that they are empathetic to your needs and the emotional challenges that you face as a parent. So be sure to shop around to find the solicitor who seems the most amenable to the results that you are trying to achieve, and take advantage of the fact that the majority of firms will offer a free, thirty-minute consultation and an informed appraisal of your case.
4. A Concise Plan of Action
Custody battles consume a lot of time; you need to keep track of many different information strands that may prove important in court or at a tribunal. This allows you to be able to consider things ahead of time and provide critical information to your legal team. Should you find your visitation rights restricted during this time, for example, it is crucial that you keep a visual record for the court of the days that you were allowed to see your children and the days that you were not. This can serve as a powerful and emotive tool during the hearing, as it showcases willingness and an underlying desire to raise and nurture your child.
5. A History of Maintaining Child Support
Maintenance or child support issues must never be aired in conversations regarding custody. The last thing you want to do is sully the fact that you are the more nurturing parent with inappropriately timed child support discussions. Court or tribunal actors may cynically assume your wish to spend more time with your children is an economic consideration, aimed at reducing your financial obligations. Ultimately, as with any situation, you must obey legislation that applies to you. If it is your name on the birth certificate and you are legally bound to pay maintenance, you must make good your obligation.
6. Documentation to Support Your Case
In preparation for your custody battle, you will need to invest in a large file organizer. This organizer will contain every important document or file pertaining to your custody battle. A certified copy of the current custodial arrangement should be the first document included in this file. You must then familiarize yourself with the duties and responsibilities placed upon each partner, and create a list of the documentation that is necessary to support your fulfillment of these. Documentation can also help to support any claims you make during the hearing, so keep a copy of all telecommunications with your partner, and use a journal to detail any violation or breaches of an existing agreement.
7. Open Lines of Communication with Your Ex-Partner
The use of term ‘battle’ in relation to custody is misleading, as ultimately it must be hoped that both you and your former partner want nothing but the best for your children. So while looking to achieve the aims you originally set a course for, look to engender diplomacy within the custody process. Clearly much of this depends on the quality of relationship you still enjoy with your former partner, but try not to lose sight of the fact that once the court proceedings end and the legal fees have been paid, there will be only yourself, your ex and your children to consider. Without open lines of communication and some common ground going forward, it is the children who will ultimately suffer as they grow older.
8. A Skilled and Motivated Mediator
Mediation is a quicker and cheaper way to assess and decide upon custody arrangement than going through the courts. In the UK in 2012, 67% of publicly funded couples resolved their dispute using a qualified mediator. The average timescale for mediation was 110 days, compared with 435 days for court proceedings. It is expected that use of mediation as an alternative to court procedure will continue to rise rapidly. This is a different process from the traditional court route and all mediators are meant to be entirely without bias, although the process does look to compel agreement amongst the parties.
9. A Willingness to Spend Your Hard-Earned Money
In the UK, legal aid for divorce cases is only available to victims of domestic violence or abuse. While family mediation is covered by legal aid, the vast majority of private family law cases in the UK are not included within this legislation. While the situation obviously varies from country to country, if you don’t have access to legal aid this means that if you are committed to pursuing custody through the courts, you will need to invest a great deal of your hard-earned money in securing legal representation and settling all associated costs. This is something that you will need to prepare for from the outset, as otherwise you will run the risk of exhausting your funding before the case arrives in court.
10. A Respectable Appearance and Demeanor
Regardless of the legal route taken, be it mediation or court, your general appearance and behavior will be scrutinized by the officials who take charge of proceedings. You can rest assured that this process will prove lengthy; therefore on each occasion you attend a court or mediation date, you need to look and sound your best. These must not be considered occasions to vent your frustration, regardless of how you may feel. Everything that you do within these conditions must be rational and serve to further your own case, rather than providing ammunition for your partner’s legal team.