By Joseph H. Nivin, Esq.

If you’ve been in custody litigation for a while, you’re probably wondering how much the law comes into play. It may seem like the judge or the referee does whatever he or she wants to do, and that there’s no pesky law getting in the way. Yes, courts are governed by the law. However, the law is not black and white. It is gray.

Much of an attorney’s job is to convince a judge to interpret the law in a way that is favorable to his or her client. Judges and referees are attorneys as well. Therefore, if they believe that a certain result is good for your child or children, then they can probably find a way to interpret the law to get to that result. Does that mean that your attorney can’t do anything for you? No, it doesn’t. However, it means the following:

  • Technical arguments, without a corresponding argument about the child’s best interests, are unlikely to work. For example, parties should not take actions that are purely out of spite and bank on an argument that there’s no law against it. The judge will hold spiteful behavior against the parties even if the behavior is perfectly “legal.”
  • Even if the law is on your side, you will have to reassure the judge that the result you’re seeking is in the child’s best interests. This especially applies in cases where one party is a grandparent. While parents do have superior rights to non-parents, the parent seeking custody would be well-advised to demonstrate that their position is not only consistent with the law, but also in the child’s best interests.
  • Don’t piss off the judge! Make sure to be as sympathetic as possible! Remember, your case isn’t a car accident case. The stakes are far higher, and the judges know that. Therefore, don’t expect the judge to treat your case as if it involved an insurance company litigating against a claimant.