5 Child Custody Mistakes Single Parents Make

Rookie Mistakes You'll Want to Avoid

Going to court to fight for child custody is an emotional time. And many single parents make mistakes simply because they're uncertain about what to do, and they're easily swayed by friends and family members who mean well, but who have little or no experience with the courts. Here are five of the most common child custody mistakes parents make, along with tips on how to avoid them:

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Showing Your Hand

Businesswoman at table with head resting on hand
Thomas Barwick Getty

One of the most dangerous mistakes you can make is letting your ex know what you plan to do or say in court. Be careful who you speak with about your case, socially, as well. You never know who might carry information back to your ex, thinking that they can help you resolve things out of court -- when all they're really doing is weakening your case. The person you want to strategize with is your lawyer.

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Making Your Child Custody Case About How Your Ex Failed You

There may be some parallels between being an inattentive, negligent partner and being a sub-par parent. But the moment you try to make that case in court, you present yourself to the judge as someone who is bitter and angry -- and who may not be willing to collaborate with your ex at all. In some situations, the courts will use this concern as a reason to grant custody to the other parent: the exact opposite of what you were going for in the first place.

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Letting Your Emotions Drive Your Decisions

It's natural that your emotions are high at this point, but you have to exercise restraint and stop yourself from letting those emotions drive your decisions. This happens quite often when family members get involved and start nagging at you to go for more parenting time or more child support. Don't let pressure from others cause you to make choices you could regret -- like turning a reasonably amicable situation into a nasty, contentious child custody battle. To avoid this, always consult with your lawyer before changing course and asking for more.

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Attempting to Speak for Your Children

Similarly, making your case about how much the children need you can also backfire. From the court's perspective, your children need both of you, and any attempt to suggest that your children need you or want you more than your ex could put you in a negative light. If you believe your children do wish to speak for themselves in court, consult with your lawyer ahead of time about the child custody laws in your state. Generally, the courts are willing to hear from children ages 13 and older, but specific rules and criteria vary by state.

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Taking a Passive Approach to the Entire Experience

Even when you hire an excellent lawyer, one with an outstanding track record for helping clients win custody, you should never sit passively by and put the outcome of your case entirely in someone else's hands. It's up to you to do the research about your state, your county, and even the judge assigned to your case. Work just as hard as you would if you were representing yourself in court, pro se. Finding out up front that the court strongly favors joint physical custody, for example, can help guide discussions with your lawyer and ensure that you have no regrets about your case later. Likewise, make sure that all of your paperwork is turned in on time and that you're present at every hearing. Demonstrating your determination in this way can have a powerful impact!