What Is in a "Character Letter" for a Child Custody Court Hearing?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

What Is in a "Character Letter" for a Child Custody Court Hearing?

By Stephanie Kurose, J.D.

A "character letter," as it pertains to a child custody hearing, is a letter that attests to a parent's ability to meet their child's needs. It can serve as a type of evidence that judges and custody evaluators use when assessing what arrangement is in the child's best interest. A character letter is generally needed in contested cases, where one parent is seeking an arrangement with which the other parent disagrees. While there is certainly no standard format, every effective character letter has a few common themes.

Woman in pale blue long-sleeve shirt holding paperwork

Interests of the Child Standard

In almost every child custody hearing, a judge will consider what is in the best interests of the child. The exact factors the judge and custody evaluators consider may vary by state, but generally courts look at the parents' relationship with the child, their parenting skills, and knowledge of the child's needs. The court may also consider any criminal history of the parents and their ability to maintain a stable lifestyle.

In cases where the child in question is older, the court may also take into account the child's preference. For example, if the child is 12 years old and wants to live with the mother, a court is more likely to consider this when making a decision, moreso than if the child is only age 4 or 5.

Every character letter should include why it's in the child's best interests to live with that parent. It can be written by a family member, friend, neighbor, professional colleague, teacher, or any other party with knowledge of the parent and child's relationship.

Style of the Letter

Unlike many legal documents, a character letter can use informal language. However, it should still be clear, concise, and thoughtful. Whoever is writing the letter should explain in his or her own words why they believe the parent is the right guardian for the child. The opening paragraph should describe the author's relationship with the parent they are supporting, as well as the parent's relationship with the child. It is also a good idea for the author to list their credentials, especially if they have particular knowledge in child rearing and development.

While character letters should highlight and emphasize the parent's good qualities and minimize their less positive traits, they must always be truthful so that the court can make an informed decision. The body of the letter can include stories or anecdotes that help illustrate the relationship between the parent and child. These examples can help demonstrate the ways in which the parent has employed a particularly effective parenting style or showed a constructive attitude towards the child.

Character letters can provide a judge and custody evaluator with evidence of a parent's morality character and ability to care and provide for their child's daily needs. In divorce cases where child custody is a contested issue, character letters can assist the court in making an informed decision about what type of custody to award.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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