(Caveat: I'm no longer a single mom and my chief experience with post-marital conflict is my husband's extreme situation with his ex-wife and son, who lives with us. I didn't have too much conflict with my own ex. So, I've seen how things look when they go well...and the polar opposite. I peek in occasionally at Single Parenting because I've been there and because some issues - like the legal ones - are also relevant for blended families like mine.)
1. Identify why you're documenting.
- If your goal is simply to ensure you get custody, A) Go ahead and include mundane facts (like who trims toenails) in your log. B) Don't worry! Your ex would almost certainly have to convince a judge you were unfit, to get primary or even equal physical custody of children so young. And if he accused you of being unfit, the automatic question would be, "Well if she's so bad, why have you been co-parenting with her, without ever once feeling the need to call CPS?" You will be fine, Mama.
- If you want to prove your ex is abusive, so he has supervised visits or otherwise has less than the basic, minimum rights of a NCP in your state, A) Consider minimizing the mundane details and logging only things relevant to proving abuse. Interspersing abusive incidents with long stretches about toenails and shampoo might water down the impact of your log. B) Think ahead to how you will answer his lawyer's question: "If he's so abusive that his access to your kids should be restricted, why did you agree to spend so much time with him, with the kids? Where are the police reports you surely made, about the abuse?" There may be perfectly fine answers to that question, but you need to know what they are, ahead of time.
- Later, if the purpose of your log is to show he violates court orders, only log violations. When someone eventually reads your log, in conjunction with a contempt hearing, you don't want it to look like you've padded it with a bunch of entries that don't have anything to do with contempt.
- If you want to protect yourself against accusations you think he'll make about you, include the mundane things (to show how you care for your children) AND jot down basic notes about how you spend your days: approximately when did you leave the house and for how long? Where did you go? Who did you see who might remember seeing you? Who visited you and approximately when? It is tedious and unfair, to have to spend the time doing this. But it's important, if you're threatened with false accusations.
My husband stood trial, after his ex-wife turned in a 5-page log, with 30+ entries accusing him of violating a No-Contact order. He rejected a plea-bargain (because he never would have had hope of getting custody, if he pled guilty), but if he lost the trial, he'd serve a year in jail (and REALLY never get custody). Nearly everything in her log was "he said/she said" stuff, which was scary because she comes across very well to strangers, while DH comes across as a gruff, Italian guy with a thick moustache. But there was one single incident where his ex claimed he followed her in his car and he was able to prove - without a doubt - that he had been out of state, in a meeting. After that, none of her other accusations seemed very believable and DH was quickly found innocent. But without such an anal log, it would have been hard to remember (8 months later) exactly which day - much less what hours - he'd been in that meeting.
- If you simply want to remember things and testify accurately, try to log only things you think you'll be asked about in court. With little things, it may be enough to say, "I bathe Sally every day after dinner. I trim her fingernails every Tuesday, after her bath. To my knowledge, John's only involvement in her care is that twice in 6 months, he held the towel as I got her out of the tub," instead of logging each bath. With bigger things - say, your ex not showing up for a visit - log each time it happens and whether he communicated about it, what excuse he gave, etc.
2. Once you've identified your goal, log everything that's relevant to it. Sentence fragments make it shorter and easier. A judge or custodial evaluator might carefully read the whole thing, but might just as likely skim through it - in which case, its value will not be in the details, but in the overall impression that you took consistent, reliable notes (rather than throwing together a "log" the night before court.) This will make your testimony more credible.
3. Wherever possible, get secondary documentation. (Not about nail-trimming.) If you're trying to protect yourself from false allegations, save receipts, movie stubs, etc., to verify where you go and when. If you're trying to prove abuse or court-order violations, write down any witnesses or keep any paperwork that proves it. Write down the name(s) of the specific daycare employee(s) who said they've never seen your ex.
Affidavits cannot be used in (a US) court, unless you bring the person who signed it, to testify and let the other side question them. You can present affidavits, but the minute your ex's attorney has the sense to object to them (and he will), out they go. (This sounds frustrating, but would you want to be denied something as important as access to your kids, based on a piece of paper your ex brought to court, in which someone allegedly said you were a bad mother? But your attorney can't cross-examine that person? And you wonder if your ex got his sister to write the affidavit and her best friend who works in a bank, to notarize it?) So try to make sure witnesses understand that you may need them to come to court, and that whatever they were willing to write in an affidavit will not help you at all, unless they'll go to court and stand behind it.
4. Consider keeping a detailed log, but making a shorter summary, to submit in court. That could increase the chances of a judge actually reading it. A sample (as you requested):
When my husband finally won custody, it was primarily based on his ex having moved out of state and then all but refusing to let him see their son, when he traveled there every month, to visit. I kept a long log, detailing:
- Each time DH emailed his ex about an upcoming visit and what parenting time he requested;
- How long she took to respond and what parenting time she said he could have;
- Whether he wrote back to ask for more time and whether she responded;
- Exactly what days and hours DH was in town; the days and hours my step-son was not in school and could have seen his Dad; exactly which days and hours they actually got to see each other; and everything we knew about the hours DSS spent in daycare or with babysitters, while DH was in town.
DH took the log to court, in case he needed it. But what he actually submitted to the judge was the following, which the judge quoted in her final ruling and which the appeals court also quoted, in its defense of giving DH custody:
"Despite advanced notice to (Ex) that (DH) would travel to California to see (DSS), (DH) was able to see (DSS) for only 47 total hours (not quite 2 days) out of the 63 days he spent in California between December, 2006 and August, 2007." That was followed with a brief list of each month DH had visited CA and the number of days he spent there that month; the total hours his ex gave him with their son that month; and whether those hours were all in one day, or divided between multiple days.
Reading it wasn't nearly as outrageous as reading all pages of the details. But what DH submitted was concise, easily digestible to a 3rd party and it turned out to be very effective.
Edited by VocalMinority - 4/3/13 at 10:11am