If you are, or will be, involved in a child custody battle, you may be wondering how to help ensure you have the best possible outcome. The evidence you present in court to help establish your argument will be an important factor in the judge’s eventual determination. It’s important to start collecting evidence early to ensure you don’t forget important facts, lose access to evidence, or run out of time to collect what you need. An experienced family law attorney can assist you in understanding what types of evidence you should be gathering and how best to document and organize all that evidence.
Factors Considered in a Child Custody Determination
When making custody or visitation decisions, courts will determine what is in the best interests of the child. The Virginia Code lists multiple factors for courts to consider when deciding what is in the best interests of the child, including:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child;
- The age and physical and mental condition of each parent;
- The relationship existing between each parent and each child, giving due consideration to the positive involvement with the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child;
- The needs of the child, giving due consideration to other important relationships of the child, including but not limited to siblings, peers, and extended family members;
- The role that each parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
- The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
- The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference; and
- Any history of abuse or an act of violence, force, or threat in the previous 10 years.
The court can also consider other factors as the court “deems necessary and proper” to make a determination.
Types of Evidence to Use in Child Custody Cases
In child custody cases, each party will typically present evidence that shows them in a good light and the other parent in a bad light. Since the parties will likely be telling different stories, the judge will have to decide which evidence is credible and more persuasive. Parents should try to collect any evidence they can that speaks to one of the factors listed above and strengthens their case. Some of the most common types of evidence include:
- Communication with the child’s other parent, including emails, voicemails, and text messages
- Audio Recordings
- Social Media Posts
- Schedules and Calendars
- School, Financial, and Medical Records
- Police Reports
A parent’s personal journal can be helpful evidence if it contains notes about instances involving the child. While parents can give oral testimony about these exchanges, having notes allows an individual to recall specific details they may have otherwise forgotten and can be used to refresh the individual’s memory. Photographs and videos of parents with their children spending time together, on vacation, during holidays, or doing activities can also be persuasive evidence. Similar to journals, having documented evidence of your time together with your child can be more persuasive and credible than solely oral testimony.
A parent’s calendar or schedule can also be helpful evidence as it documents how much time a parent spent with the child. A schedule can help establish how often you are involved in your child’s school or sports activities, or other activities you did together, such as spending time at the playground or a museum. Instances when your child’s other parents had to cancel or reschedule visitation or denied you visitation rights should also be documented on the schedule.
Witnesses are also an important part of a child custody case. Having witnesses to verify your side of events can help the judge make a determination in your favor. Typically, in a child custody case a parent will want witnesses that have first-hand knowledge about interactions between you and your child, your child and other people living with you, and how your child is acclimated to his home, school, and community. Potential witnesses may include family members, friends, teachers, coaches, doctors, and therapists. Neutral witnesses, such as teachers or coaches, are often seen as more credible, since they are more likely to be unbiased. Parents may also use expert witnesses to testify about the behavioral or mental health of a child. Your attorney will need the names and contact information for any potential witnesses, as well as what type of information they may be able to testify about that is helpful for your case.
Custody and visitation matters can be complex and because of their importance, it is beneficial to consult with an attorney experienced in family law matters. Family law attorneys at General Counsel, P.C. are experienced in custody and visitation matters and can help you navigate the process and protect your rights. Call us today at 703-991-7973 and see how we can help you.