In making a custody award, the judge is usually choosing between two good people. Both parents genuinely love their child, and want to do what is best for him. They each want to make sure the child has enough to eat, decent clothing to wear, adequate medical care, and a good education. How each parent plans to provide these things is what the court will consider in making its final order.
Legally, the court cannot grant final custody of your children until your state’s waiting or “cooling off” period has elapsed, and the divorce has been granted. However, if the court hears all of the facts and finances in an interim hearing, there is no reason for the judge to change his mind from his first ruling. If the court didn’t take any evidence at the interim hearing, you will be able to call witnesses and show the judge appropriate documents at the final hearing. However, if you’ve already had a full “evidentiary” hearing at the provisional level, and the court has already heard your witnesses and seen your documentation, it is likely to rely on it’s earlier order in making its final decree. In short, you may as not repeat yourself.
Whether or not you’ve already lost your first bid for custody, there are steps you can take to strengthen your position at the final hearing. If you don’t get custody, your attitude and demeanor can at least result in more liberal visitation with your child. The most important thing you can do for yourself is follow the court’s order. If you shirk on either your child support or visitation, the court won’t have any reason to trust that you can put your kids needs before your own. If you don’t pay your child support consistently, the court will conclude that making sure your kids have adequate resources to survive is not all that important to you. If you don’t show up for visitation when you’re supposed to, you are telling the court that you have some trouble fitting your children into your busy schedule. You can see why the judge wouldn’t award you the Parent Of The Year plaque in that case.
If you haven’t submitted your evidence to the court previously, what you do now could have a great impact on the eventual outcome. If you are not living in your marital home, make sure you continue to pay the bills you’ve always paid, and make sure your kids have what they need. Leaving the other parent without help when your child is most vulnerable is not the way to show the court that you understand your duties, and intend to fulfill your obligations towards your kids.
The best outcome in most custody cases is for the parents to agree on their children’s post divorce care. Sometimes, negotiation is just not possible. If you have good reason to think you are the better parent, and your kids are better off with you than they would be with their other parent, then you will have to prove it to the court. You will have witnesses and exhibits to support you. However, the best evidence of your love for your kids is that you will do whatever you can to take care of them, including following the judge’s orders.