What Is in a "Character Letter" for a Child Custody Court Hearing?
By Anna Green
In a child custody case, judges and custody evaluators assess what arrangement is in the child’s best interests. To assess the best interests of the child, the court may consider the character of each parent and their ability to meet the child’s needs. A character letter can serve as a type of evidence attesting to a parent’s fitness. Most often, custody character letters are employed in contested cases, such as divorces where one parent is seeking sole custody and the other wants joint custody.
Best Interest of the Child
The Child Welfare Information Gateway explains that most courts use the best interest of the child standard when making a custody determination. The exact factors that courts and custody evaluators use to determine the best interest of the child vary among states, but generally, the court will look at the parent’s relationship with her child, her parenting skills and knowledge of the child’s needs. The court may also look at a parent’s ability to act morally, abide by the law and maintain a stable lifestyle.
Character letters can provide the judge and custody evaluator with evidence of a parent’s morality, character and ability to care for the child’s daily needs. These letters might be written by family members, friends, neighbors, professional colleagues, teachers, daycare providers or any other parties with knowledge of the parent’s character or intimate understanding of the parent’s ability to care for her child.
Unlike many legal documents, a character reference letter for child custody may employ informal language. Additionally, a character letter may be concise and provide a brief statement indicating that the character reference believes that the parent is a fit custodian for the child. Since custody reference letters may be in support of a parent, they often emphasize a parent’s good qualities and minimize their less positive traits, explains child custody coach Steven Carlson.
The opening of a child custody character reference letter will usually introduce the writer and describe her relationship to the parent. Further, the letter might list the writer’s credentials, particularly if she has particular knowledge in child rearing and development. The beginning of the letter may also include a description of the parent’s relationship with her child. Within the body of the letter, the character reference might include anecdotes, stories, narratives or descriptions of the parent-child relationship. These stories might illustrate positive character traits or describe the ways in which a parent employed a particularly effective style of parenting or showed a constructive attitude toward the child.
Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.