You’re noticing red flags in your ex’s parenting and think it’s in your children’s best interests to spend more time with you. What do the courts look for when one parent sues to make changes to the current custody agreement and requests “full custody” of the kids? A recent celebrity news item involving a custody dispute between exes Christina Hall (formerly Haack) and Ant Anstead provides a lesson in the high stakes — and high burden of proof — involved in child custody modification cases.
HGTV star Hall and British television host Anstead were married from 2018 to 2020 and have a two-year-old son. Since their divorce was finalized in 2021, the two have shared custody. Last week, however, Anstead returned to court to seek full custody (sole custody) of their child. In making his case for the custody modification, Anstead relayed to the courts his key allegations: Hall spent an extraordinary amount of time away from the child when he was in her care; Hall allowed the child to become sunburned and was dismissive of the health effects of sunburn; and Hall failed to inform him that their son had contracted Covid, exposing Anstead and his partner Renée Zellwegger to the virus, which resulted in a temporary halt to production on Zellwegger’s latest movie.
The California courts denied Anstead’s claim, citing that Anstead provided an “insufficient showing” of evidence in his initial filing and that Hall was not given enough notice about the request. The two have a court date set for June 28, giving both time to prepare their arguments and collect evidence for the courts.
The Anstead-Hall case underscores just how seriously the courts view any modification request for an existing child custody plan. It’s not enough to claim that one parent is “unfit”; thorough evidence MUST be presented in the matter to clearly demonstrate that a child’s best interests would be better served with a different custody plan. Anstead now must take steps to collect evidence to prove his case and grounds for the modification.
If you are considering seeking modification to an existing New Jersey child custody order, take a lesson from the Anstead case: It will be VERY important for you to provide evidence that can show the courts why a new custody arrangement or parenting time schedule is needed.
Here are three key pieces of evidence to have on hand:
Parenting Log: If you haven’t already, buy a notebook and start keeping track of your parenting time (or download a co-parenting smartphone app with a journal function). In court, these kinds of written records are often referred to as a “custody journal.” For each entry, write the date and make any notes about important events, milestones, or issues that cropped up. Items to list include:
• Late pick-ups and drop-offs,
• Missed or cancelled visits,
• Health appointments and medical information,
• Discussions with the other parent,
• Your child’s mood and emotions when interacting with the other parent,
• Your child’s behavior and/or appearance,
• Issues you want to talk about with the other parent,
• How your child is doing in school and other activities,
• Your child’s milestones and development,
• Your child’s grades in school, and
• Anything else you want to remember.
For some parents, the act of journaling helps them to see what specific suggestions for changed parenting time/visitation may be best. For example, if the child’s other parent is consistently late picking up at the custody swap, and this behavior is visibly upsetting to the child, the courts may consider this information as good enough reason why a different schedule is needed.
Photo Records: Along with your parenting log, keep a photo/video record showing some of the highlights of your time with your child. Did you take a special trip? Did you spend time redecorating your son or daughter’s room in your home? Did you celebrate your child’s birthday together? Is there something concerning about your child’s appearance that is relevant to your request (i.e., a picture of the sunburn in Anstead’s case). A picture can be worth a thousand words when describing the relationship you have with your child and the quality of time you spend together. Likewise, collect notes and cards the two of you may have written each other, and keep that drawing of the two of you your child made. This kind of information may be useful in establishing the closeness of your bond, if needed.
Other Records & Documents: At the time of your divorce, did your hectic work schedule keep your parenting time to a minimum — and now those work hours have diminished? Did you move to a new home and now have a separate bedroom for your child? Do you now live closer to the child’s other parent and/or the child’s school — or on the other hand, do you live father away? Do you need to move for your job? Before embarking on the modification process, gather evidence for major life changes on your part that may impact your child’s life and your current custody plan.
The process of modifying a child custody order in New Jersey can either take place in family court, in which case a judge makes the decision to accept or deny a formally filed motion, or the modification process can take place out of court, if both parents agree to a consent order changing the current arrangement.
Please see our article on post-divorce child custody modification to learn more about how to take next steps.
If you are considering child custody modification, we are here to provide you with the legal guidance you need to arrive at the best arrangement for your child and family. Please contact us today to schedule your initial, confidential attorney consultation. Call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below.