Last time, we began looking at the importance of working with experienced legal counsel in child custody proceedings. In the first place, we noted, skilled legal counsel can help ensure that a parent is able to convey to the court his or her qualities and that the court has accurate information about both parents with respect to the various best interests factors.
2. Ensure the court understands what you, as the parent, want
Another important reason to work with experienced legal counsel in child custody proceedings is to fully convey to the court your desires as a parent and the motivations behind your child custody preferences. As we noted, even though the child's best interests are the primary factor the court considers in making a child custody determination, the interests of the child are ordinarily closely tied to the interests of the parents.
It certainly is true that, in some cases, there are strong reasons a parent and a child should not have close, continuing contact with one another, such as cases where there is a history of abuse or when the child has a strong, and reasonable, preference not to live with one parent. Generally speaking, though, keeping parents and children together after divorce is not only usually beneficial for the child, but also good for the parent. In other words, what is good for the parent is often good for the child.
When the court understands where a parent is coming from in his or her child custody preferences, this can help the court to evaluate the other factors it is obliged to weigh, such as the parent's ability to care for the child and the parent's relationship with his or her former spouse. When the desires of parents clash, of course, a decision still has to be made, but the court should have a better sense of where the parent is coming from, particularly when it comes to his or her sincerity and commitment as a parent. An experienced attorney can help convey a parent's preferences and motivations in a way that is sympathetic to the court.
3. Help the court to have the proper perspective in weighing the factors
A third reason to work with an experienced attorney is to help ensure the court has the perspective necessary to fairly and impartially weigh the various factors under consideration. Family court judges have a lot of discretion when it comes to making child custody decisions, but in Maryland child custody cases, some factors are weighed more heavily than others.
In any custody case, abuse is weighed heavily in terms of a child's best interests. The fitness of the parents is also a very important factor in any case. For purposes of considering joint custody, greater weight is given to the ability of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions about the child and their willingness to share custody than to other factors. An experienced attorney can help ensure the court not only has accurate information concerning these factors, but that the court has the perspective necessary to properly weigh each factor in making a decision.
In a future post, we'll look at another reason to work with an experienced attorney in child custody proceedings.