In the context of family law, a “custody battle” usually refers to a highly charged, emotional dispute over child custody rights. This usually occurs between parents of a child or children, often in connection with a divorce trial. Custody battles usually result if the partner’s can’t work things out through family mediation or interventions. The result is that the parties may end up taking things to court in order to resolve the custody dispute. Custody battles can also involve other parties, not just the parents. For instance, custody disputes can also involve:

  • Stepparents
  • Grandparents or other relatives
  • Foster parents

Any other parties who may have an interest in obtaining custody of a child can become involved in a child custody battle.

What Should You Consider in a Custody Battle?

As a child custody battle begins, there are some fundamental things to keep in mind. It is easy for the battle to get vicious, difficult, and stressful. But if you keep the following things in mind, through every step and situation, then the entire process can be easier:

  1. Understand the Child’s Best Interest Rule: The main rule of thumb in any child custody/visitation/support proceeding is that courts will always make all determinations according to the “child’s best interest” standard. That is, any decisions regarding child custody or visitation or other matters should ultimately benefit and protect the child.
  2. Don't Use Child as Bargaining Chips: Custody battles often occur because one or both parents are using the children as “bargaining chips” in order to obtain a favorable divorce or child support ruling. This should be avoided at all costs, and instead, the parties should consider the child’s best interests.
  3. Understand that there are Various Types of Child Custody: For instance, there may be physical, legal, joint, shared, or other kinds of child custody. Many child custody arrangements involve some mix of the different kinds of child custody. Understanding these options can help prevent a heated battle over child custody.
  4. Child Custody can Be Modified: Understand that child custody orders can often be subject to modifications in the future. If a child custody arrangement seems unfavorable, you can ask the court to modify the order. This may be a positive benefit for the child in the long run. 

How Can I Be Successful in a Child Custody Battle?

Being successful in a child custody battle can be difficult and time consuming and there may be many obstacles to overcome. Here are some tips on how to get custody of a child:

  • File a Lawsuit with the Court: In some cases, it may actually be necessary to file a lawsuit for a custody order. This can happen for instance if the other party is violating a previous child custody order, or if abuse is involved. Benefits to following the formal court process include enforceability of the documents, court protection, and intervention of legal professionals.
  • Initiate or Seek Family Mediation: Family mediation can help the parties to reach an agreement on important issues like custody or support. However, the parties must be able to work cooperatively with one another.
  • Parenting Agreement: If possible, you may be able to create an out-of-court parenting agreement with the other party. These are usually enforceable if written, and can also be submitted to the court for further finalization and approval.
  • Understand Legal vs. Physical Custody: Legal and physical custody are not the same. A person can have physical custody of a child, but not legal custody, in which case they wouldn’t be able to make certain decisions on behalf.
  • Understand “Child’s Best Interests” Standard: Courts will only approve a custody arrangement if it serves the “child’s best interests.” You should keep this in mind during the process.
  • Keep a Journal: Document all the notes that would benefit you in a child custody battle. 

What are Some Things to Avoid in a Child Custody Battle?

There are of course several things that you want to avoid during a child custody battle, no matter what the other parent does. For instance:

  • Don’t harass, intimidate, or threaten the other party
  • Don’t seek custody of children simply as leverage to gain advantage over the other party
  • Don’t communicate with the other party if they have a lawyer and you don’t; try to have communications between your respective lawyers
  • Do attend all legal proceedings, court hearings, or meetings regarding custody
  • Do maintain a positive attitude, healthy lifestyle and economic stability

What Decisions Are Discussed in Child Custody Battle?

During a typical child custody battle, the parents of the child or children will usually address important matters in connection with child custody, such as:

It is important that both parties proceed with negotiations in a manner that is cooperative, both emotionally and mentally. Child custody should not be treated as a “bargaining chip” in order to obtain a more favorable judgment in divorce proceedings. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Child Custody Battle?

Filing for child custody generally requires the assistance of a child custody lawyer. You may need to hire a lawyer if you need help with any child custody disputes or issues. Your attorney can help determine what’s best for the child or children, and can help represent you during formal court hearings. Also, a lawyer in your area can assist you if you need to make any modifications to a child custody order.