As a Peoria IL family law lawyer for over 30 years, Edgar Weer has come to recognize three key components. While each case has its unique parties and facts, there are these three things that I present in each case in order to have the best chance of winning custody for my client, whether it is the mother, or the father.
First of all, I seek to emphasize the positive things that my client does for the child or children. Parenting involves a multitude of details; things that must be done on a daily basis to care and provide for a child no matter what his or her age. One of the most effective forms of evidence is for my client to list the many things he or she does each and every day for the child. Some of my parents have a list that they tape to their refrigerator door each day of the activities or events that are occurring that day involving their child. When I put my client on the stand, I painstakingly have him or her go through each and every thing that he or she does throughout the week for his or her child.
Other attorneys may seek to emphasize the negative; have their client testify about all the so-called bad things that my client has supposedly done that involves caring for the child. Much like ads during a political campaign, the opposing party seeks to tar my client as this awful parent for things he or she has done. And, much like negative political ads, these negative comments can resonate with the judge. The one striking weakness of such negative testimony however, is that it is predominantly anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is evidence from isolated incidents. Where only one or a few anecdotes are presented, there is a larger chance that they may be unreliable due to cherry-picked or otherwise non-representative samples of typical cases. Any parent likely has done some isolated incident, that can be characterized as neglectful, or not in the child’s best interests. But, when my client counters isolated anecdotal evidence with overwhelming positive, constant care-taking of the child, the judge will weigh that in favor of my client.
A second essential component of a custody case seems obvious, but nonetheless is important. That component is who my client calls as witnesses in his or her behalf as to why he or she is the better parent. It is axiomatic that judges do not want to hear witnesses testify that my client is a “good parent” while having witnesses testify that the opposing party is a “bad parent.” Any party is able to provide witnesses who will say these things. These statements tell the judge nothing substantive to help them decide which party should be awarded custody of the children. The judge wants to hear from witnesses, besides the parties, that tell him how the children are doing under the parties’ respective care.
Examples of what I refer to as substantive witnesses are teachers, if the children are in school. Each year, schools have meet the teacher night, teacher conferences, and other school activities. Which parent is attending these events, and which isn’t. Nurses from the child’s doctor’s office can testify which parent comes to the child’s doctor appointments. If the children are involved in extracurricular activities, the leaders of these activities can state which parent regularly attends those, and which parent doesn’t. Another example of a substantive witness is included in what is normally referred to as a “support group.” A support group is family or friends who are available on a moment’s notice if the parent is, for example, at work, when the school calls to say the child is ill and needs to be taken home. Someone from the support group is able to pick the child up from school and care for them until the parent is able to leave work. A support group member is available in other emergency situations for the child when the parent is unavailable. If the support group is largely made up of family members who the child has grown up with, is also an important consideration in a custody case.
A third and final important component of a child custody case, especially in a close case, is to give the opposing party the “benefit of the doubt.” That means in preparing the case, I assume that the opposing party can be awarded custody because of the positive attributes that he or she displays. Then, I take the next step in the analysis by answering the question that despite all the good things about the opposing party, how and why should my client be awarded custody, regardless. To use the political campaign analogy again, a political candidate always assumes that he or she is behind in the race no matter what the polls indicate, right up to election day. This attitude toward a close custody case provides my client with an edge, ever so slight, that may be enough to be awarded custody when all other considerations are close to being equal.
A custody case can be emotionally draining on the parties, the children, the attorneys, and even the judge. These three essential components provide the framework that can prove to be the difference in winning the child custody case.
Thanks to our friends and co-contributors from Smith & Weer, P.C. for their insights into child custody cases.