It’s never easy to lose or receive a negative decision after a custody trial. They involve the most important aspects of your life: your children. It is devastating to come out on the losing end. You probably paid large legal fees, which makes it even harder to accept the outcome. If this just happened, you may wonder what what went wrong, or what to do next.
What did we do wrong?
You may wonder if your lawyer did something wrong that made you lose. Very often, when I speak with someone who is looking for a new lawyer, they believe they lost their trial because their past lawyer did something wrong. While it is easy to assume that good lawyers win and bad lawyers lose, a custody trial simply doesn’t work that way. An experienced lawyer will take a set of facts, present it in the most favorable way, and help the judge understand the facts in a way that makes her able to find in your favor. However, lawyers cannot change the history of a case, or control the outcome. In a custody case, outcomes often turn on facts and events which happened long before hiring your lawyer.
Unfortunately, not all facts support a favorable outcome, and some cases are harder than others to persuade a judge. This is often the case when one parents wants to move away, or when a parent has only recently addressed a serious drug addiction. Sometimes you may do everything right, but it hasn’t been long enough. This does not mean you did anything wrong, or that you are a bad parent! It means that certain types of cases are very challenging to succeed.
You may also wonder if you lost because something wasn’t presented in court. Clients are often concerned about this. In every custody case, there are exhibits and facts that never get shown to the court. It is common to think the case would have gone differently, if only the judge had “everything” in front of her. Why didn’t your lawyer show those text messages? Why didn’t your lawyer introduce the voicemails from years ago? “More is better” is often the wrong approach in custody cases. Your lawyer knows the court’s priorities, the facts of your case, and what the other side will argue. Instead, your lawyer uses her knowledge to pick the strongest arguments. This ultimately means excluding information that doesn’t address the court’s priorities or distracts from your strongest arguments.
Finally, parents often ask why their lawyer didn’t say more about the other’s bad character. In most custody cases, these arguments are often vague and provides little of valuable use. Parents rarely come into a custody trial with no blemishes. There are text messages, voicemails, and missed communications which do not support the child’s best interest. This is very common at the beginning of a separation. But their existence does not by itself indicate poor parenting.
What can I do next?
First, talk to your lawyer. She may have insight into why the judge ruled a certain way. Your case may have always been harder to win, or there may have been some glaring fact that tilted the judge in the opposite direction. This is usually clear from reading the judge’s opinion. It is uncommon that an experienced lawyer truly does not know why a judge made a certain decision.
Next, you should take time to read the judge’s opinion. This is often hard, but it provides valuable information. It lets you see what the judge found problematic and what to change moving forward. If the judge found that housing wasn’t stable, then prepare to address that head-on. If the judge found you to be less involved, then be proactive in requesting information about your children. The purpose of understanding what concerned the judge is not to make you feel bad, but to give you the opportunity to make concrete changes.
If you take the time to address the judge’s concerns, eventually you can request a change in custody. Judges can and do change their orders when they consider a previous issue to be resolved. It is not a quick or easy process, but it is very possible. Losing a custody trial once does not mean you cannot have a better result in the future.
Custody orders are not set in stone, and they can be changed if you address the problematic areas. This shows the court you took its concerns seriously and are acting in your children’s best interests. Child custody is rarely a one-step process. By using an unfavorable decision as way to make changes, you can obtain a far more positive outcome later.