Child custody hearings are undoubtedly the most challenging and emotionally charged component of the divorce process for Delaware parents. The outcome of these hearings will profoundly impact the lives of both parents and, most importantly, the children. Understanding the legal landscape surrounding child custody law in Delaware, having a strategic plan, and preparing heavily are key to presenting a compelling case and ensuring the best interest of the child or children.
Understanding Delaware Custody Laws
Before delving into the preparation process, it’s critical to understand what is being determined in a custody hearing, and how it will be determined. In Delaware, there are two kinds of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody is where the child physically resides, and legal custody is the authority to make decisions regarding that child. Delaware favors joint physical and legal custody when possible, emphasizing the importance of shared responsibilities and cooperative parenting. That is not to say, however, that physical custody will be divided equally as maintaining two separate homes for the child or children is often not practical.
Delaware courts consider the best interests of the child, above anything else, when making child custody decisions. With that guiding principle, judges or magistrates will take other considerations into account including, but not limited to:
- The parents’ ability to co-parent, communicate, and cooperate
- The stability of each parent’s home environment
- The physical and mental health of each parent
- The child’s routine
- The child’s adjustment to their school and community
- The emotional bond between the child and each parent
- Each parent’s financial circumstances
- Any history of domestic violence or abuse
- The child’s wishes, depending on their age and maturity level
1. Document Your Involvement
The level of involvement each parent has in their child’s life is a very influential factor in determining both physical and legal custody. A detailed record of your participation in your child’s activities, school events, and medical appointments can serve as valuable evidence, as it showcases your dedication to your child’s well-being and strengthens your case.
2. Maintain a Positive Co-Parenting Relationship
Delaware courts strongly emphasize the importance of maintaining a positive co-parenting relationship. Of course, that requires efforts made on the part of both parties, which isn’t always so easily put into practice. However, demonstrating a willingness to communicate and cooperate with the other parent – regardless of how those efforts are received – can positively impact the court’s perception of your co-parenting abilities, painting your case in a more positive light.
3. Create a Detailed Parenting Plan
A judge may have a good insight into what the best interests for a child are, but they don’t know your child and their unique needs. A carefully crafted and well-thought-out parenting plan can play a crucial role in your case. An effective parenting plan involves outlining your proposed custody arrangements, visitation schedules, and plans for the decision-making responsibilities. Your plan should focus on the best interests and specific needs of your child above anything else, but should also account for practical considerations. Presenting a comprehensive parenting plan goes a long way in showing the court your dedication to fostering a stable and nurturing environment for your child through this transition.
4. Gather Supporting Evidence
As in any legal case, evidence is critical, and the more the better. You should support your case with relevant documentation that demonstrates your ability to provide a safe and stable home environment for your child, including financial records, your child’s medical records, and character references.
5. Contact an Experienced Delaware Child Custody Attorney
The laws surrounding child custody are very subjective, and without knowing what the other parent will present, awaiting child custody hearings can be extremely nerve-wracking. Because the law in this area is so complex, consulting with an experienced family law lawyer is paramount. Your attorney can guide you through the legal process, protecting your rights and helping you build a compelling case. Working with an attorney also sends the message to the court that you’re taking this process seriously and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep your child happy, healthy, and safe.
At Schmittinger & Rodriguez, we have made it our mission to deliver responsive, reliable, and relentless representation to our clients. We know that every child custody hearing is unique, just as every child is unique, so we will personally tailor our services to fit your unique circumstances, needs, and goals. With 62 years of experience and over 45,000 clients served, our team is ready to start advocating for you. Contact us today for a consultation!