Develop one theory of your case, and stick with it.
Mary Jones went to court last week and told the judge that her ex-husband, Peter, is an alcoholic who drinks to excess 7 nights a week, and therefore, he should not have the kids. Before Peter could defend himself, Mary also stated that he was a workaholic, who never seems to have time for the children, even when he’s at home, allegedly spending time with them. In fact, Mary told the judge that her ex-husband is financially irresponsible to such an extent that he could not possibly manage the children’s personal needs, clothes shopping, medical bills and insurance policies.
So dedicated was Mary to the objective of preventing Peter from getting custody that she piled on every bad thing she could possible say about him. And then she lost the case.
Mary’s situation is not unique. Although Mary and Peter Jones are fictitious names, their story is a common one, and it’s an important lesson for all parents embroiled in a child custody case. One of the best ways to lose your custody case is simply by overkill: arguing everything under the sun.
Arguing everything you can think possibly say against the other parent is rarely useful. It tends to dilute the impact of your best arguments. It unnecessarily protracts your case, and it makes it appear as if you don’t believe any single issue is substantial enough to carry the burden of proof. It is better to develop one main theory of your case, and to stick with it.
For example, if Peter Jones truly had an drinking problem, Mary should assemble and organize all of the best evidence she can find to prove the extent to which the problem exists and how it interferes with his parenting time. This might include, for example, evidence of drunk driving convictions, frequent absences from work, accounts of excess drinking at family events and social gatherings, and other anti-social conduct that illustrates the problem.
There is, of course, no rule that prevents you from highlighting any number of shortcomings possessed by the other parent. But you should use your judgment to identify the key problem areas, and then to develop a theme of your case, built around one central argument. Shotgun-style accusations that cover numerous areas of misbehavior may provide a sense that you’ve been thorough in your presentation, but you probably won’t have as much evidence to prove some of your claims as you will to prove others. So make some hard choices. Decide what’s really worth arguing about. Pick the key issue, and develop a theory of the case around that issue.