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7 Mistakes That Can Hurt Your Child Custody Case​

It can be hard to handle the emotional stress of a separation, especially when child custody is involved. The legal aspects often intertwine with the personal issues that led to the end of the relationship, and arguments over child custody only complicate the situation further. 

Even though custody of a child can involve strong emotions and convictions, it’s important to keep in mind that your actions can have an impact on your child’s well-being and your ongoing relationship with them. Letting negative feelings lead to destructive behavior or poor judgment is a quick way of painting yourself in a negative light before the judge and at a disadvantage in court.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of seven things you shouldn’t do if you want a positive outcome for your child custody case.

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How Do Judges Arrive at Custody Decisions?

It’s good to begin with an understanding of how custody orders take shape. There are two aspects to child custody: legal custody and physical custody. You can share them with the other parent, called joint custody, or split them, with one parent having primary custody.

Legal custody is the ability to make major decisions that affect the child’s life. This includes choices about religion, medical treatments, or schooling. Physical custody defines where the child will live—either split between both parents or with one having primary custody while the other has secondary custody or visitation rights. The breakdown of legal custody and the schedule of physical custody may be called the parenting plan or custody plan.

The “best interest of the child” is what a judge will have to determine when making a ruling on a custody plan. This is a very broad topic, and the judge has a lot of discretion in making a final determination. There are some general factors the judge will consider:

  • Relationships: A child should be able to maintain relationships with people in their life like their non-custodial parent, extended family, and positive influences in their school or community.
  • Development: A child needs support to grow and mature, and those in charge of their care will likely need to nourish them mentally and physically.
  • Safety: An essential part of the decision is keeping children away from harm. Drugs, abuse, domestic violence, or a criminal record could keep one parent from earning custody.

With these priorities in mind, here are seven mistakes that can hurt your child custody case.

1. Refusing to Cooperate or Compromise With the Other Parent

Even though you may have strong negative feelings about your former spouse or partner, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is putting those feelings above the best interests of your children. Refusing to communicate reasonably could make the judge think that your desire to hurt the other parent is greater than your desire to be a positive role model for your child.

Instead, try to keep an open and constructive dialogue with the other side. If emotional factors make it hard to do this, consider hiring an experienced family law attorney who can handle communication for you and provide valuable advice about when to compromise and when to take a stand.

2. Withholding Visitation From the Other Parent Without an Urgent Reason

In general, the court will not look kindly on any attempt to cut off the other parent from seeing their child without the support of a court order. Of course, there are times when you can’t wait for a court order. If the other parent or the environment poses a danger to your child, like if you suspect physical abuse or unsanitary living conditions, then you may have grounds to refuse visitation.

However, such instances are limited to real and immediate threats. Stopping visitation as a penalty for other matters, like missing child support payments, can end up making situations more complicated and put you in contempt of court. You should always consult an attorney before attempting to violate a visitation schedule the court has laid out if it’s not an absolute emergency.

3. Fighting With or Talking Badly About the Other Parent in Front of Your Children

Again, the welfare of your children should be your main concern, which means you can’t afford to drag them into any negativity between you and their other parent. Even if your ex-spouse or ex-partner seems impossible to get along with, it’s important to take the high road whenever you can and conduct yourself in a compassionate and collected manner.

If the other parent refuses to do the same, this could boost your chances with the judge. Meanwhile, if you sink to their level, then you pass up a valuable opportunity to show the court you’re better equipped to look out for your child’s best interest.

RELATED: What Can I Do About Parental Alienation?

4. Exercising Poor Judgment on Social Media

Social media accounts can seem like a private space to vent frustrations and receive support from friends. The reality is that these accounts are public, and anything you post on them could come up in court. Posts that could lead the judge to form a negative opinion about your conduct or your influence on your child can be very damaging to your attempts at a favorable custody ruling from the judge:

  • Pictures of you intoxicated or using illegal drugs
  • Lies or abusive comments
  • Disparaging statements about the other parent

In general, a good guideline is that you shouldn’t put anything on social media that you wouldn’t want on display in open court. However, do not delete something that can count against you if you have already posted it. The post in question may be evidence, and you could face legal consequences for trying to get rid of it. Instead, discuss the post with your attorney, who may be able to prevent it from being admitted as evidence or reduce its impact by reasoning with the judge.

5. Disobeying a Court Order

If you violate the temporary orders or disobey any directions from the court, the judge will take this as a sign of disrespect for their authority, and you could be held in contempt of court. As you can imagine, that won’t help you when it comes time for the judge to decide your case.

When first determining the custody of your child, the judge may order a temporary schedule for custody, or you may sign a consent order for temporary custody. Your options to change it can be limited, and the court will require you to follow the arrangement. Even though it is an agreement, once the judge signs it, it becomes a court order that you must follow.

RELATED: Denied Child Custody or Visitation? Here’s What to Do

6. Not Taking Notes

If the other parent engages in any of the behaviors mentioned in this article, you should bring this to the judge’s attention. But it won’t help if you don’t have a detailed record of the events. In court, terms like “a while ago” and “this one time” don’t carry much weight. If you want to bring an incident to the court’s attention, you should be prepared to state an exact date and time along with as much detail and documentation as possible.

To make this easy, get in the habit of keeping a journal for your custody case. This can be a notebook where you write down events and dates or an app on your phone where you can store notes. Here are some tips:

  • Be Consistent: Take notes during every interaction with the other parent, making sure to write down details if they do something you believe is inappropriate or detrimental to your child’s welfare.
  • Be Cooperative: You can also use your journal to document positive events, such as constructive activities you did with your child during visitation time or how you cooperated with the other parent.
  • Be Comprehensive: Wherever possible, take photos to corroborate your journal and make a note of anyone who was there to witness the events to bring along to family court.

7. Not Hiring an Attorney to Represent You

A child custody and visitation case can feel like a maze of legal paperwork, court dates, and visitation schedules. Missing even a single detail in any of these areas can have a negative impact. Your relationship with your child is too important to risk letting that happen in a child custody case.

To avoid that risk, you should look for an experienced family law attorney who can argue on your behalf in court and keep track of all the various filings, dates, and requirements. An attorney can also use their experience to present your case before the judge in a clear and compelling fashion and communicate with the other side so that personal emotions don’t get in the way of what’s best for your child.

Myers Law Can Help You Understand Your Case

Myers Law Firm has over 60 years of combined experience with family matters, including child custody cases. Our team can look at the details of your unique situation and offer assistance to address your circumstances and meets your needs.

Call us at (888) 376-2889 or complete this brief form to schedule a free consultation.


Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2020). Determining the best interests of the child. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/best_interest.pdf

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.1

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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