In Virginia, custody cases are based on the “best interests of the child” standard, which means that’s what you and your child’s father (and your attorneys, if you have one) should be discussing when you’re in court. The judge is listening for these details, including specific references to the ten factors, which provide the foundation for any good custody case.
You’ll have to talk about the factors, and describe how your parenting takes each of them into account, but you’ll also want to show the judge some kind of proof of what you’re saying. You don’t have to print up every single inappropriate text message or email that your child’s father has ever sent you, though. In fact, it’s probably best to concentrate more on what you’re doing that’s awesome rather than what he’s doing that’s terrible.
The judge doesn’t have time to read a million pages of documents, even if you think they’re all critically important. It’s best to concentrate your efforts on creating solid pieces of evidence that display the points that matter most to you and your particular case. Judges also tend to like illustrative evidence, like charts and graphs that they can understand at a glance without doing a ton of extra reading.
One thing we like to recommend to our clients is that they keep a contemporaneous record of custody and visitation. It’s important that your record is kept contemporaneously (meaning at the same time) so that your recollection is as perfect as possible. If your child’s father dropped your child off late or missed a visit entirely, your memory will be freshest immediately after it happens.
Pictures can also be useful. If you can show the judge the child’s bedroom, the local neighborhood playground, and the child’s school, you can often paint a good picture of what life would be like for the child if he or she lived with you.
Your attorney can give you more advice for what other evidence might be useful in your case to prove your unique points, but this should give you some ideas for places to start. Remember: you should be focused on what is in the child’s best interest. Try to highlight your strengths as a parent, rather than wasting precious time in front of the judge bashing your child’s other parent.