By Melissa Averett, Attorney at Law
Determining child custody is not always clear cut. In an ideal world, both parents would have excellent parenting skills and share custody. That situation seldom represents reality. The judge who hears your case does not know you or your child’s other parent. The judge must often rely on third-party testimony to decide on the best custody arrangement for your children.
Who can be a witness in a custody case?
You will need to provide your attorney with the names and contact information for witnesses who can testify on your behalf about your parenting skills and/or the lack of parenting skills on the part of the other parent.
The threshold question is whether a potential witness has personal knowledge of your parenting ability and/or that of the other parent. So, who has seen you parent your children? How often? How recently? Who has seen the other spouse parent… or fail to parent… your children?
The next thing to consider is the credibility of that witness. In other words, how neutral is the witness, what is the nature of their testimony and how persuasive will they be? Obviously, a third-party who is not related to you and has some professional or strong experience dealing with children would be more neutral than your mom, and the quality of their testimony would be higher than a witness who has no professional background in child care. Other examples are a teacher, coach, doctor, or therapist with solid (and relatively recent) knowledge of how you parent (or how the other parent fails to parent). Family members and your close friends are less ideal as the judge may consider their opinions to be biased, but they probably have more information and have been around you and the other parent more often than witnesses who may be less biased but have less personal knowledge.
And finally, you don’t need three witnesses who are all going to say the same thing.
What will the judge consider strong parenting skills?
Saying, “Mary is a good parent” tells the court absolutely nothing. The judge has no way to know what exactly the witness thinks is good parenting. The witnesses you choose must be able to tell a story or give an example of a situation where they observed you in action with your child… or examples when the other parent did a bad job of parenting. Parenting a child who is behaving well is a breeze. Good parenting speaks to parenting even when the kid is tired, obstinate, or upset and the parent is stressed or tired but still keeps it together to parent with grace. Having two or three witnesses who can each provide a good example is ideal.
The best stories or examples from your witness should:
- Describe the situation and location.
- Provide a date (or least the month and year); the more recent, the better.
- Stories of how you disciplined your child or redirected their behavior are particularly relevant.
- Examples that show you consistently showed up are great.
- Anecdotes where you asked for advice and followed it are helpful.
- Testimony that shows the other parent failed to show good parenting skills can support your side of the story.
Your goal is for the witnesses to bring your story to life, so the judge gets a good understanding of your skills as a parent.
As an example, let’s say you have consistently attended meetings with your child’s teacher, you have reached out when his or her grades dropped or behavior changed, you asked for the teacher’s advice and followed it, resulting in improved grades/behavior at school. If the teacher can confirm your actions, he or she would make an ideal custody witness. And if you believe the children are better off with you than the other parent, that same witness testifying that the other parent has not attended meetings, reached out, or has refused to follow advice is effective.
What can the witness expect?
Below are classic questions that an attorney would ask a witness who is testifying on behalf of a parent in a child custody case. These are written with the Plaintiff as female and the Defendant as male, but the gender is not relevant and used for the convenience of pronouns.
- What is your name and where do you live?
- Are you employed? Where do you work?
- Do you or did you have minor children? How many and what are their ages?
- How do you know the Plaintiff, how long have you known her?
- Do you know the Plaintiff’s child(ren)?
- How and under what circumstances? Describe the children for the court.
- How often do you see the Plaintiff? Under what circumstances do you interact?
- Have you had the opportunity to see her parent her children?
- When/how often/under what circumstances?
- Can you give me an example that reflects her parenting style that you have personally observed, starting with when and where it happened?
- Have you or would you trust your children in the Plaintiff’s care?
- Do you know the Defendant? If so, how long have you known him?
- Have you had the opportunity to observe the Defendant parent his children?
- [IF NO] Have you been present for events that you would have expected the children’s dad to attend, but he did not? [IF YES] When/how often/under what circumstances?
- Can you give me an example, an anecdote, of his parenting style that you have personally observed, starting with when and where it happened?
- Have you or would you trust your children in the Defendant’s care?
As you can see, the goal is to make sure the judge gets a clear picture of your parenting skills to be able to make an informed decision on child custody.
If you are facing a child custody battle, you should have an experienced custody attorney on your side. Call our office today to schedule an appointment.