So you didn’t get custody this time …
Now that the litigation is over and you did not get custody, there are things that you can do to increase your chances with a Motion to Modify seeking custody or more time with the children.
The standard for a change in custody is a substantial and continuing change of circumstances since entry of the prior order such that a modification of the custody is in the best interest of the children. If your dissolution was resolved by agreement, facts that exist now or even prior to the date of the judgment are relevant and may be considered by the Judge. Realistically, such facts are generally relevant if they are part of a pattern that existed at the time of the dissolution and continues at the time of the motion to modify.
School: Be certain to be involved and to keep a record of your involvement. Do not dramatically increase your involvement; rather, do so gradually. Go to the school at some point over the summer with some self-addressed stamped envelopes and ask that duplicate copies of all items sent home with the kids be sent to you. Don’t complicate things by telling them not to worry about things sent home on Wednesdays. Let the school folks know what days you will be picking the children up. If possible, avoid giving them your entire judgment. You might consider making a calendar and showing it to your former spouse, telling him or her it is for the school and getting an agreement that it is accurate. Be in contact with the teacher and exchange information like e-mail addresses with him or her. Talk to the teachers and tell them that now that the stress of the divorce is over, you want to make being involved with the school a priority again and ask how often and by what means they would like to have contact with you. Make a point to meet the school counselor, briefly explain that the children seem to have adjusted fine to the divorce but you would like him or her to be aware that they are children of divorce and to have your contact information. Perhaps contact of a similar nature with the school nurse (if there is one) would be appropriate. Be certain to read the year end report cards carefully and to be the leader in effectuating any suggestions with the other parent. Consider speaking with the past year’s teachers and asking if there is anything that could use some extra attention over the summer and if so, present a plan about the same to the other parent
Medical/Dental: Be sure to know what the status of all routine healthcare, be certain that all health care providers have your current contact information. Show initiative about upcoming routine exams – offer to be in charge of scheduling and get times that are good for the other parent, when an appointment is coming up, offer to take the child or ask to also attend. Treat the dentist the same way. If orthodontia is a possibility, be proactive about having that issue addressed. Be prompt about submitting bills you have to the other parent and in paying your part of those submitted by the other parent to you.
Activities: Keep track of your involvement. Do not count on the other parent getting information to you. Get it yourself. Share all information that you get with the other parent or at least offer to do so.
Custody: Keep track of time you have the kids, whether scheduled or not and if not your regularly scheduled time, keep notes as to why.
Child support: If there is no wage assignment by which the child support is paid, keep track of what you pay if you are the payor or what you have been paid if you are the payee. If there is a wage assignment and you as the payor change employment, be certain to sign a new wage assignment with your new employer and make certain that yu pay the other parent directly if there is a gap and keep track of what you pay. If you pay directly, keep or get a copy of the canceled checks now (it is easier if you do it right away) and keep them. Remember that child support is not intended to pay everything, so don’t be petty about smaller expenses like dinner out, but clothes, party gifts for other children and the like. Keep track but don’t ask for reimbursement from the other parent. It is reasonable to ask for a contribution for larger expenses like out of town school trips.
Remember, there is no age when children get to “pick” a parent, although once they can drive, the courts generally respect their choice. Do not be disrespectful of the other parent and be supportive – help your child make or purchase a gift and a card for the other parent’s birthday and other special days. Treat the other parent the way that you would like to be treated.