DOCUMENTING YOUR CUSTODY CASE
You are going to be called upon for reams of documents and
materials during the course of your case. Keep originals of everything
that you can and keep copies of everything at very least. See also our
article "Tips For How
To Organize Your Case File". Obviously, you are going to need to
retain all correspondence from the attorneys, evaluators and the court.
The focus for this article is primarily on custody matters, not property.
See our link page for "Tao of Divorce" for
some tips on financial documentation. Here are some other documents to
consider maintaining in regards to custody issues:
It is important to keep a
chronology of events that happen in the time leading from the decision to
divorce to trial. Do not advertise that you maintain a journal. Some
attorneys recommend keeping hand-written notes, so check with yours first
on what they suggest. We found it easiest to maintain a journal on the
computer. Simply put in the date and a brief, non-emotional summary of
what happened that day.
Things to keep notes on are:
- comments the children have made about neglectful, inappropriate,
alienating or abusive parenting by the ex
- similar comments by others
- school issues
- extra-curricular activities
- medical, dental, therapy, orthodontics, etc.
- appointments, conversations, etc.
- early/late pick-up times
- incidents of domestic violence/abusive behaviors by ex
- observations - missing personal effects, bruises, scratches,
children's demeanor, dirty/damaged clothing, etc.
- telephone calls -- etc.
Some moms keep individual sheets on each "major" disturbance and
package it up as an exhibit for the judge also.
Journaling can be helpful to refer to in order to summarize by date and
time the above occurrences for depositions, discovery, the custody
investigator and trial.
A guide to taping in all 50 states is
available at http://www.rcfp.org/taping/index.html
Check with legal counsel as for admissibility and to verify the guidelines
found in the website above.
Exercise caution here as well. Some judges will vilify the person doing
the taping, disallow it as evidence, etc.
You should likewise assume that every conversation and exchange you
have with your ex and your children is being documented or recorded.
No one should be aware that you are taping (see the laws in your state
for exceptions to this), especially your children.
Photographs & Other Evidence:
You can use
photographs, police reports, etc. as supporting exhibits for your
journaling. If you are documenting injuries, it is best to have the police
department or emergency room workers do the photographing. In the
Elizabeth Morgan case, her photographic documentation of her child's
sexual abuse injuries was portrayed to the court as "child pornography".
If photographic documentation is done, try to use "real", not digital
photographs, as the claim can be made that the photographs were altered
digitally. . Keep the roll of film intact--no other photograph subject
matter. Keep the negatives with the pictures and the developing envelope
from the lab. Prior to court and upon receipt of developed film, have the
photographer sign each photograph on the back with the date and time taken
and date signed. Said photos should then be placed in an envelope and
preferably sealed with evidence tape. Whoever sealed it should mark the
outside of the envelope with subject matter/dates and photographer's
Another way is to have any other (credible and nonbiased) witnesses
testimony entered on record that this is a true graphic
representation/depiction of what they saw on Johnny on 12/24/01.
It doesn't seem to matter whether you
are custodial or non-custodial. As soon as anyone hears "custody &
divorce" your and the kids experiences are discounted in most people's
eyes as just another messy divorce. Don't let that stop you from doing
what you need to do.
Always stay very calm and respectful even when you are being
patronized. Police will often not want to do a report, considering custody
orders civil matters that are outside their control. In the instance of
visitation violations, for example, you could explain that you understand
they really can't enforce visitation, but would they be so kind to just
write up the facts. Acknowledge what they were thinking, but still get the
piece of paper you need.
Always try to have witnesses other than family members for exchanges if
possible. If not possible, then family will have to do. You need someone
else to back up your view of the incident. Check with your attorney first
before retaining the services of a private investigator.
It is generally best for someone other than you to report to CPS (Child
Protective Services) about abuse and neglect issues. CPS is often
dismissive when one spouse calls in abuse against the other during
divorce/custody proceedings. Court personnel often wrongly assume that
abuse allegations arising during divorce/custody are false and may
penalize the spouse making the allegations. Check the laws of your state
to identify who are mandated reporters. Be aware, that oftentimes, if CPS
workers can not ascertain with complete certainty that an abuse occurs, a
report may be issued that says "unfounded". Although this finding just
means they could not firmly establish abuse or neglect, and that it may
well have occurred, court personnel will sometimes construe this to mean a
false allegation was made and punish the reporting parent.
Some former partners will be, how shall we say, a little reluctant to
pay child support and will use every tactic to stall and harass you if you
are the primary/custodial parent determined eligible to receive such
support. Some will demand excessive documentation and detailing of how you
spend child support. Get in the habit of throwing receipts and invoices in
an envelope for each month so if this happens in your case you have the
Just as you are documenting your
case, so may be your ex. Keep in mind that you may be being followed by a
private detective, your trash may be being picked up and sorted through,
and your computer may be hacked. If you are not already living a
squeaky-clean existence, do so now.
If your ex is no longer living in your home, immediately have all the
locks changed and use them.
If your ex has a history of domestic violence, consider having someone
else do the visitation exchanges. This can be informally or with a
court-ordered supervisor. In more highly charged situations, it may be
safer for you and the children to have exchanges occur with a supervisor
in a neutral location--away from your home. Abusers will often use
information gained during exchanges against you in court in one fashion or
another. It is generally best, if possible to keep as much distance
as possible. We are aware of fathers that attempt to goad the
mothers at exchanges, that report to the court the mother wasn't "friendly
enough", that the mother says things she never said. If you're not
present for the exchanges, you may avoid some of these
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