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Understanding how a judge will evaluate what is in the best interests of your school-aged child

Nobody knows exactly what goes through a particular judge's mind in a particular case in family court. Yours will be no exception to that rule. We can take educated guesses and base those guesses on experience but if an attorney tells you that they know a certain judge very well and is certain how he or she will rule on a particular subject is not being truthful.

However, I think that the information that we discuss today can help shed some light on what a judge is likely to be thinking in regard to making decisions that are in the best interests of your child. Specifically, we will be covering what factors into a judge’s thought process regarding your child who has just started going to school. Children that are aged 5-7 face unique challenges and are in the midst of a time in their lives where they will need to meet a great number of developmental goals.

Elementary aged students begin to interact with the world on their own

You may remember your child’s first day of school as a day full of new clothes, new experiences and a sense of letting go. When your child put their foot on the school bus steps or you dropped them off at the front of the school building you likely had some sense of a change has occurred in your child’s relationship with you and with the world.

The first day of school was your child’s introduction to the world outside your own home and maybe a daycare environment. It can be described by children as fun, scary, exciting and everything in between there is a range of emotions that are experienced by a child of this age. It can take your child some time to adjust to the changes associated with going to school full time.

The same general ideas apply to a child who goes through a divorce or child custody case. The stability that was previously the hallmark of their young life has been thrown into disarray at least for a period of time. The uncertainty that they are feeling can be made worse by the fact that the two supportive figures in their life, you and your spouse, are at odds with one another on a number of subjects. When and if your child realizes that she is at the center of those disputes it can become an even tougher time for your child.

The developmental goals that children at this age reach are the kind that they will build upon for the rest of their childhood lives. Learning to ride a bike, writing their name, learning to read, and tying their shoes are the sort of things that we as adults take for granted but as a child, these are huge accomplishments in the eyes of a child. Any of you reading this who are parents can attest to a change in your child's demeanor once he or she learn any of these skills. They walk a little different and the reason is they have developed a sense of satisfaction and pride that they have done something on their own.

Rules are important to children of this age

Have you ever told you child the rules to a game and then subsequently “bent” those rules? I can almost promise you that your child between the ages of 5 and 7 noticed that and mentioned something to you. Children of this age appreciate security and predictability a great deal and rules help to ensure those conditions exist. If you violate rules, especially rules that you set down for them, that can create a bit of a stir in a child of this age.

We can easily extrapolate this situation to your family law case. In your child's mind, you and your spouses are a unit and a predictable one at that. By becoming involved in a family law case that predictability went out the window. What your child sees is that he only sees his parents separately now instead of as a unit. Their minds frequently go towards who will be caring for him in the event that something goes wrong. We see this frequently in instances where your child will be transitioning into staying at your new residence or the new residence of your spouse for the first time.

What a judge will be looking for in the evidence that is submitted in a trial

Ultimately what matters in the eyes of the judge is what can be presented in a trial as far as evidence is concerned. Whether this evidence is admitted as testimony, documents, photographs, videos or some other form judges will cast a critical eye towards whatever in submitted in hopes of figuring out what is in the best interests of your child.

Alienation of affection can occur- your judge will be watching to prevent it

For instance, elementary aged children are very prone to be influenced by their parents. Alienation is a concept that judges keep an eye out for in contentious family law cases. This occurs when one parent attempts to convince a child of untrue and unfair assertions about their spouse in hopes of pulling the child away from that parent and towards themselves. Giving your child negative information regarding your spouse is a good way to not only harm your child but to also harm your case.

Visitation schedules as set forth by judges are usually very straightforward

Next, it is not realistic that your judge will come up with a visitation schedule that is all that flexible or complicated. The reason is that judges understand that children of this age are especially prone to behavioral problems in the event that their schedules and routines are thrown off. Expect a simple, straightforward visitation plan to be introduced as a result of your child custody or divorce case. If this does not sound appealing to you then I would recommend that you seriously consider attempting to settle your case with your spouse rather than attend a trial.

Extracurricular activities are important to your child

Remember that your child’s extracurricular activities are an outlet for them as they go through this difficult transitional phase. Whether those activities are dance, football, or anything in between your child can focus their attention on something that does not remind them of the uncertainty in their home life.

I mention this because it is important for you and your spouse to be able to help your child maintain involvement in these activities while your divorce is ongoing. Make sure to mention these activities in your testimony in order to allow the judge to be made aware of the location of the activity.

How has your child been acting toward you and your spouse?

Behavior is a major concern of judges for children of this age. Now that your child is in school his behavior has the potential to impact many children throughout the day. It is no longer the case that your child’s bad behavior is limited to your home. As a result, if your judge becomes aware of behavioral issues he or she is likely to take those into account when rendering orders regarding visitation, possession, custody and other pertinent subjects in relation to your child.

Your child is not a messenger pigeon

Are you using your child as a messenger? As in, instead of sending an email or making a phone call to your spouse are you telling your child to relay a message to your spouse with regularity? This can seem innocent but can actually be detrimental to your child. He or she can perceive emotions, especially those of their parents, quite well. If the message you are using your child to relay to your spouse results in a negative reaction your child can incorrectly perceive it to be their fault that the message got the reaction that it did.

Instead of using your child in this manner it is better practice to communicate directly with your spouse both during and after the divorce. If communication has caused problems before (and if you have recruited your child into the process odds are good that it has) consider using email, text messaging or websites like Our Family Wizard to communicate major issues. That way you can ensure that your messages are delivered but can also minimize miscommunication and potential issues that may arise with your spouse.

Has your child taken on the attitudes of you and/or your spouse?

Children who are between the ages of 5 and 7 tend to mimic the behavior of the people around them. You should keep an eye out to see if your child is starting to talk and act in ways that are not appropriate- either towards you or your spouse. The reason for the change in behavior could be nothing, or it could be that he has seen you talk and act towards your spouse in a certain way and he is now doing the same. Keep an eye out for this type of behavior because the judge in your case will be.

Do not underestimate how much support your child needs during this time

I have spoken with many parents who have held beliefs regarding their child that he or she is “resilient” or “tough.” The divorce, these parents will tell me, hasn’t really phased the child to a great extent. While you may be correct that your child is pretty resilient, he is still only a child. A young child, at that, and one who has seen his family unit go through pretty dramatic changes of late.

With this in mind, it is crucial that you be able to provide the support that is necessary to ensure that your child makes it out of this stage in their lives as unscathed as possible. Being dismissive of the challenges facing your child can be very detrimental to your case- not to mention your child. I have gone through a dozen or more factors that your judge will look to when determining what is in the best interests of your child. I can promise you that if you do not take the challenges facing your child seriously that a judge will take note of that.

Something as “small” as having a set time and place in your home for your child to do homework can be a sign a judge will look for when determining whether or not you provide the best possible environment for your child to do well in a post-divorce world. If you are not available to help with after-school assignments who will be helping you care for your child? Ask yourself these questions before you ever see the judge and have a plan in place.

Finally, your own behavior is important to the judge’s determination of best interests. You are your child’s primary role model. The behavior that you display towards the people around you will inform their sense of what is proper and improper behavior. The way you testify and conduct yourself in the courtroom can and will have an impact on your judge’s determinations. Keep this in mind and do your best to act in a way that will benefit you, your child and your case.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Child CustodyLawyersright away to protect your rights.

Our child custodylawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custodycases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, KingwoodTomballThe Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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