1. Be involved at school
Stay as involved as possible in your kids’ education. Contact teachers often, go to parent-teacher conferences and school activities and volunteer often. Get to know teachers and school staff. Make sure you pick up report cards and school records, limit absences as much as possible and know how your child is doing in school. You need to show you understand the importance of education and that you ensure your kids do their best in school.
2. Promote social and recreational development
Extracurricular activities are important for kids. Sports, music, dance or any other fun hobbies can teach life skills and encourage socialization. If your kids are involved in activities outside of school, make sure they attend regularly and that you go to games and practices as much as you can. Volunteer or coach if possible. Encourage them to try a sport or other activity if your children don’t have a current hobby. You’ll show the court that you are raising a well-rounded, happy child.
3. Make rules and enforce them
Your children may be going through a difficult time, but they still need sensible rules. It might be tempting to give in more than usual if your time with your child is limited. However, you’ll be more likely to impress a judge if you can show you practice effective discipline. Your kids should have age-appropriate chores and behavioral expectations.
4. Take pictures
You’ll need to document your life for the court, and a picture is worth a thousand words. Have photographs that show your home and particularly the children’s rooms. Include pictures of extended family members and of you and your children spending time together.
5. Be a caregiver
Keep up with regular doctor and dental appointments. Stay on top of any health issues your children have and talk to the doctor about them. If you have a regular babysitter, make sure he or she is experienced and interacts well with the kids. Provide healthy meals and snacks. You may want to become CPR certified if possible. This will all show the judge you take your child’s health and well-being seriously.
6. Know your children
Particularly as your children get older and have interests outside of the home, it’s easy to lose track of what they are doing and what their interests are. When you are in family court, however, you’ll need to show you are involved in your kids’ lives. One way to do this is to simply spend time with your kids talking about their lives. Their favorite school subjects, TV shows, books and sports teams; what they like best and least about school, which foods they hate and which they love. Learn about their friends and teachers, and make a point of remembering names. Be prepared to talk about all these things in court.
7. Focus on the positive
If you are in a custody battle, your former partner may try to present you in a negative light in court. Tough as it may be, try your best to make this tough for them! Concentrate on positive behavioral techniques, instead of yelling at or spanking your kids. Never say anything negative about the children’s other parent in front of them. When you must communicate with the other parent, be polite and respectful both in speaking and in writing. Finally, if you and your children are struggling emotionally during this time, family counseling might be a good idea and will show you are helping your children adjust to their new reality.
If you’re facing a divorce or heading into a child custody case, making sure you’re armed with the best knowledge of how these proceedings work can go a long way toward ensuring a positive outcome. Consult with an attorney who is experienced in the area of child custody and read as much as you can about the subject to prepare yourself.
This post originally appeared in allParenting on October 16, 2013.