Just as Truman Capote dismissed Jack Kerouac’s creativity by saying, “That’s not writing, that’s typing,” some Virginia men can be dismissed as sperm donors, not fathers. But for the Virginia father who genuinely wants to fight for child custody, the process can be frightening. Much rides on every decision; entire futures are altered with each choice. Here is what to expect when you expect to face a custody trial.
First Things First: It’s Not About You
We have stated this many times in the past, but any child custody hearing is not about the parent. Under Virginia law, the hearing officer or judge is focused on “the best interests of the child.” The specific law governing custody, § 20-124.3, states,
In determining best interests of a child for purposes of determining custody or visitation arrangements including any pendente lite orders pursuant to § 20-103, the court shall consider …
It does not say, “In determining best interests of the father …” The law is obligated to protect your child, even if the legal community thinks they are protecting your child from you.
This means, in any hearing, discussion, negotiation or deposition, you need to put yourself secondary to the needs of your child. Do not behave as though you are entitled to have custody or make demands. You are very much advocating on behalf of your child.
It’s For The Best Interests of The Child
Bluntly speaking, if you do not show your sincere commitment to the best interests of your child, the court will take opportunities away from you. As the Lynchburg Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court shows on their website, for example,
If the parents are unable or unwilling to communicate very well regarding the best interest of the child, then the court will most likely award sole custody, legal and physical, to one parent, provided that it is in the child’s best interest.
Do you want to take the gamble that you, inexperienced in a child custody trial, will be looked upon as the better parent when the court hears that you could not communicate with the child’s mother?
You have to show your best side. Be willing to compromise in making arrangements for parenting time, child support, or property division.
Use those gentlemanly Virginia manners; speak pleasantly of your spouse (no matter what your inner thoughts may be!). Remember, the trial room is not the only court of opinion: keep off social media, maintain a working relationship with your spouse or ex-spouse, and say nothing bad about her around friends, coworkers and family members.
Stay sober and drug-free before, during and after the child custody trial. Speak only truth, even when a moment of truth might make you look less than stellar. Think: you lie, for example, about employment because the lie makes you sound like the superior parent. Then the truth comes out at the trial — you lost a lucrative job when your company downsized — and that momentary lie spins into a lifetime of regret when you lose custody.
Moving Forward: Fighting For Your Child
Well, then, if you cannot do this and that, what can you do, and what works at a custody trial?
Work with your attorney to negotiate fairly and honestly with your spouse’s attorney and your spouse. Make a sincere, heartfelt argument for custody of your beloved child, always keeping the focus on the child, not you.
Show you spend quality time with your child. Know the names of your child’s teachers, coaches, and best friend. Brush up on basics: what is your child’s birthday, current shoe size, and preferred vegetable?
You In The Courtroom
We are not talking a Matlock courtroom here. Sure, many of Virginia’s Circuit Courts shine with polished wood trim, but you can expect a business-like atmosphere. Unlike a Matlock episode, you are not the only case for the day.
You will be with your attorney, from whom you take every cue: when to sit, when to stand, where to sit, where to stand. Dress for court, use respectful tones, and address the judge as “Your Honor.”
If you are called to the stand, look only at your attorney. When your ex-spouse’s attorney is talking to you, look at your attorney. When the judge asks you a question, look at your attorney. Answer each question briefly and then stop talking.
In American law, reason overrules emotion: avoid raising your voice, rambling on, or begging for your child. Be calm, deliberate, and factual. Keep four words in your head at all times:
It’s not about me.
With every family law matter, something — the child, the finances, your spouse, work pressures — is unique and challenging. That is why you need The Firm For Men, because our experienced attorneys can handle every situation. With professionalism, confidence, and compassion, our lawyers are ready to serve you, the Virginia man. Contact us online or telephone our Virginia Beach office at 757-383-9184 today.