Losing custody of your children is a heart-wrenching experience for any parent. It’s difficult to consider the idea that the court believes your children would be better off with someone else, whether that’s your ex-partner, your parents, or the foster care system.
But, there are steps you can take to petition the court to have a custody decision reversed. Many people have won their custody rights back. While winning back custody of children is not easy, focus on being proactive to help the process along.
How Did You Lose Custody?
Evaluate What Went Wrong
Judges have an obligation to act in the best interest of the child. With this in mind, consider why the judge made the decision to award custody to someone else. Did you violate an order? Have you been wrongly accused of child abuse or neglect? It’s important to put aside emotions and be honest about the circumstances surrounding your custody case.
The “best interests of the child” principle has variations in each state, but there are some common factors a judge will consider. For example, in the New York State Unified Court System, a judge will observe parenting skills, a parent’s health, how the parents cooperate together, and provision for any special needs of the child, among other variables.
By assessing what factors may have contributed to the judge’s decision in your case, you can then begin to address any modifications you need to make to potentially reverse it. Proof of a substantial change in circumstance may help your efforts. When you begin to work with a lawyer, discuss whether supports like parenting classes or addiction programs could be helpful for your case. Perhaps you’ll need to make physical fixes to your home. It all depends on the details of your case.
Seek Legal Counsel
In order to win back custody of your children, you will most likely need to work with an attorney who has experience winning similar family law cases. To find a good child custody lawyer, start by asking friends and relatives for referrals. You can also contact your local chapter of The American Bar Association (nationwide) or The Legal Aid Society (New York) for assistance.
A lawyer can help you process any required motions, which vary by state. For example, in New York, a parent seeking child custody would file against the other parent, whereas a non-parent would file against both parents.
Additionally, a lawyer may be able to tell you what to document when interacting with your children, as well as whether you could benefit from an updated home inspection or evaluation.
If you do not have access to a lawyer, you can still attempt to regain custody of your children by filing pro se.
Find out whether reinstatement of custody is contingent on any special actions. For example, are you required to seek counseling, drug or alcohol treatment, or attend mediation? Making these moves to change a custody arrangement may be hard, but they’ll ultimately increase your chances of getting your kids back.
If the court has placed any stipulations on your ability to recover custody, go ahead and take steps toward completing those requirements, rather than arguing over their validity. Fast, thorough compliance will reflect favorably on you in front of the court.
Request an Evaluation
Once you’ve begun working with a lawyer and completing any steps the court has required, ask the judge for an in-home child custody evaluation. This evaluation will provide the courts with an up-to-date assessment of your home, which could help you win back custody. You also have the right to appeal the hearing.
An evaluation will likely be conducted by a psychologist. This person may focus on different areas of interest depending on your state’s child custody laws and the details of your case. They will conduct psychological testing and interviews with parents and children.
Evaluators will observe the parent and child, along with other siblings and adults in residence. Your lawyer can help you with what to expect at an in-home evaluation.
Prepare by presenting a clean home and having school and medical records at the ready. Create a list of questions you want to ask the evaluator and take notes. Be honest and cooperative.
Follow Court Orders
Don’t overlook anything the court is asking you to do. Be present at every hearing, and try not to reschedule appointments with your child’s guardian ad litem or a court-ordered mediator.
Follow the rules set in place for visitation. Stick to the court-ordered schedule. On your scheduled days, show up on time for pickups and drop-offs. If visits are to be conducted in a designated area and/or with supervision, make sure you comply.
While the situation may feel very frustrating, keep in mind the court is trying to do what is best for your child. Your cooperation within the court system demonstrates that you want the same thing.
Be Patient and Compliant
While you’re waiting for your child custody arrangement to be re-evaluated, make sure that you exercise your full right to visitation and parenting time. When you are in their presence, instead of arguing with your child’s current custodian, maintain perspective. Do nothing to aggravate the situation.
Make every effort to be polite and courteous when picking your kids up for visits. Recognize that there is the potential for positive change on the horizon. A genuine assessment of your strengths and weaknesses will go a long way. Even if it is not ideal, demonstrate your willingness to cooperate.
Consider Alternative Arrangements
Finally, use this time to re-evaluate your own desires. You may have wanted full custody originally, but now that you’ve lost custody, ask yourself whether you would consider agreeing to shared custody. If that’s an option for you, work with your ex (or whoever you would be sharing custody with) to explore that possibility.
When making the decision, think of your child and how it will affect them. It’s normal to feel guilt as a side effect of the situation, but if shared custody could be the best outcome, then you are truly putting your child’s needs above your own.
A Word From Verywell
Custody is changeable. It makes sense that losing custody of your children brings with it stress and sadness. By working on yourself and your situation with the help of a lawyer, therapist, or another support system, you’ll be in the best position to care for your kids.
Wolf, J. (2022) How to Win Back Custody of Your Children. Verywell Family. Retrieved from: