How Do I Prepare for Family Court

By Heather Bach on April 21, 2022

Having counselled many families and couples to restore a more fulfilling connection in their relationship, I’ve also had the opportunity to assist many couples through the separation process. Sometimes this process is collaborative and respectfully cooperative however there are certainly times when this is not the case. So here are a few points on how to present before the court when sorting access to your children.

Differential parenting styles can have a negative effect on the family and is a frequent cause of family conflict and separation or divorce. With that being said, concerns about changes in a spouse’s behavior can also lead to the end of the relationship, ultimately causing stress and anxiety. This can also lead one party to believe that the other is incapable of being a ‘good’ parent. Encompassing all of these concerns could lead to one parent even going so far as to prevent the children from having regular contact with the other parent.

Voluntarily leaving the family home and taking the children, or otherwise acting unilaterally will create a very unfavorable position for one parent in family court. If children are denied post-separation contact with a parent by the other parent, then invariably, the parents will be heading to family court. The emergency family court may be the only option to restrict or allow a parent to have parenting time.

Any parent going to family court on the premise of an emergency will need to convince the judge that there is a valid reason for this request. So being prepared is essential to ensure you are presenting material that helps your child gain reasonable access to both parents. 

Here are 5 tips on how to obtain the correct and fair parenting order:

Family court judges typically aren’t interested in how one parent feels about the other parent even if that parent feels very strongly about the other’s behavior. The judge will focus primarily on what is in the best interest of the children. The parent who focuses on the children’s best interest and tells the judge what the children need will be the parent who succeeds. The parent who appears to be focused primarily on the relationships neglecting to directly address the children’s needs will lose influence in the judge’s decision.

  1. It’s best to base the case on the evidence, not speculation, no matter how incompetent one parent believes the other parent may be. Judges will focus on the evidence provided. They will not base a decision on suspicions unless there is some evidence those suspicions are correct.
  2. If a parent has not displayed evidence of bad parenting, there is no basis on which a judge can rule that he or she is not fit to parent. The only exception to this is where there is objective evidence (not just the other parent saying) that a parent has threatened to harm the children or has expressed comments that sound like he or she might allow the children to be in harm’s way.
  3. Judges view parents who try to undermine a child’s relationship with the other parent as ‘bad’ parents. They believe it shows poor judgment. So, if there are texts, social media posts, instant messages, emails, or other evidence of a parent conveying damaging things about the other parent, that can assist the judge in making a determination.
  4. Domestic violence, against any family member, is also a sign of ‘bad’ parenting. The Family Law Act specifically considers all forms of domestic violence when evaluating parenting and the safety of children. However, any party who makes false or exaggerated claims of domestic violence for personal gain will be viewed poorly. 
  5. Finally, it is almost certain that a judge will look unfavorably on a parent who defies court orders, or will not cooperate with a parenting coordinator, as a ‘bad’ parent. But again, a judge will not assume that a parent will breach a court order unless there is evidence of the parent doing so in the past or there is clear evidence of the parent’s breach of an Order.

The key to presenting your perspective, even on an emergency motion for child custody, is to have evidence of a parent’s ‘bad’ parenting and to express those concerns from the perspective of impact on the child. Once that is established, it is important to tell the judge, in light of the parenting concerns, what parenting arrangement is in the child’s best interest so that this is clear for the judge and they can then subsequently order it. Steer away from criticisms and focus on your ex-spouse and the relationship and instead, come prepared with a plan you believe is in your children’s best interest.