Here are some tips that one of the users of the SPARC site was kind enough to share with us. These are some great ideas and advice, the kind that only come through experience.
These tips apply to all kinds of documentation, but especially to the journal or daily log you should (read: MUST) be keeping.
If keeping notes by hand, ALWAYS hand write your notes (in ink) regarding the other parents actions. Keep a journal and obviously document in chronological order as events happen.
Keep your phone records. This INCLUDES keeping phone bills, a log of related incoming and outgoing calls between ALL parties involved (parents, lawyers, GALS, social workers, etc). The log should be kept orderly, displaying date, time, duration of call, and subject matter. DO NOT DESCRIBE THE ENTIRE CONVERSATION - that should remain in a separate record book.
Purpose: When presented in court or used for hearings the document presents as an unbiased record representing yourself and those events surrounding your children rather than a spiteful book of pre-meditated "ammunition".
Record actions fairly!!! THIS IS IMPORTANT: If you are willing to document the other parent's poor actions, be very prepared to also document their actions which are good, civil, or done in "good faith". As an example; You document on Monday that your ex failed to allow you to visit the children as planned. On Wednesday, however, your ex proposes that you visit the children as unplanned. Whether you accept the offer or not, document this as well. Also in this scenario, document YOUR reasons of why you were unable to do so OR how the visit turned out if you do decide to accept the offer.
Purpose: When you present a well balanced log of actions both positive and negative, the records are accepted more freely than a log that leans toward negative only. A fully negative log appears to the court as nothing but a tactic to slant the decision in your favor by smearing your ex.
The "assumption" is that you have maintained this log in good faith without malice. In addition, this eliminates constant rebuttals and excuses when these actions are addressed. When you eliminate the other person's ability to "charm" the court with excuses, you eliminate a good portion of your troubles.
In the above scenario, there is little opportunity for your ex to present an excuse for failing to allow a planned visit simply by stating "But I tried to arrange another time". It will already be documented to reflect that visitation was denied, that an alternative was offered, HOWEVER the failure to fulfill the original arrangement affected you/your children in whatever ways you care to list.
When documenting the effects your ex's actions cause for you and your children, keep paragraphs regarding the effects on you separate from paragraphs of the effects on the children.
Purpose: This format clearly defines that the actions of your ex take its toll on two parties/groups.
When delivering oral or written thoughts use the following phrases:
Use "Ms." or "Mr." or first names - Don't resort to "my ex", he/she, etc.
Don't use quotes unless you are positive about the words used.
Don't "diagnose" your ex or anyone else, unless you're qualified to do so, which you probably aren't.
Use the phrase - "made statements to the effect of...".
Use the phrase - "it is in my opinion" or "I believe that...".
Do NOT write for your children directly.
For your children write "My child has expressed to me that..." Do not say, for example, "My child said they don't want to visit".
When expressing your children's reactions state: "In my opinion, my child seems to display actions which lead me to believe he/she is (i.e.: under a lot of stress, not eating well, etc)".
As mentioned in item #2, keep a separate journal (which will correlate with your phone log) regarding the specifics and details of conversations between yourself and ALL parties involved in your case. With details at hand, you can reflect on these notes for accurate summation. Likely, during the hearing, you will be able to present answers during questioning which are confident and specific. Your ex on the other hand will likely resort to "I don't remember" type remarks when questioned about a tricky areas. What/who seems more believable or reliable for information? [NOTE: You may want to consider addressing each page "To My Attorney, (your attorney's name)". This will make the journal "privileged communication" to your attorney, and as such, it cannot be subpoenaed.]
If you receive correspondence from your ex, keep it on file. In addition, (after first consulting with your attorney) ALWAYS respond and keep a record of that as well. Even if your response is a simple two line letter saying "This is to notify you that I am in receipt of your letter dated 00-00-99 in which you state...." In addition, always send a copy of any correspondence received from your ex to your attorney for his records.
Purpose: Displays "willingness" to keep communication lines open despite possible ill feelings between yourself and your ex.
Keeping an electronic journal on your PC comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Be aware that it's relatively easy to contest the authenticity of computer-generated documents, and it can be difficult to prove they're genuine and accurate. In short, computer-generated documents are easy to fake, and there is no practical way to prove that you didn't sit down and type it all up last week. Handritten entries in ink are generally better because of the 'perception' factor that evaluators, GALs and judges have- many of them consider electronic records of this sort to be suspect.
If you are keeping your journal on a PC in electronic format, one way to help establish the authenticity of the entries is to regularly email them to your attorney with a cc: to yourself. This way the entries will be time and date stamped and your attorney can attest to their authenticity. It's important to try and send the email daily (especially on the day of any notable events) so a regular pattern is established.
Sending your journal entries to your attorney this way may prevent your entire journal from being subpoenaed (this has worked successfully for others). You could also send copies of your email to someone credible who is willing to testify as to their dated authenticity, but make sure this person will be seen and accepted by the court as a neutral party.
If you are using Microsoft Word to keep your journal, there is a feature in Word that may be useful in helping to validate entries. Go to the tool bar in Word and select File, then click on Versions, then click on Save Now. This will track the date and time of any changes that were made. (There is also a field available for comments, but filling it out isn't mandatory.) Every time you make changes in your journal, instead of clicking on Save, click on Versions and Save Now.
Get some color-coded binders and file all of your documentation into categories according to subject (as shown below). Within each section/subject, arrange the documents in chronological order. Here is an example of one way to color-code and categorize documentation:
Child support - Green
Visitation - Red
School records - Black
Medical records - White
Information relating to your ex - Orange
Correspondence between court and you - Yellow
Correspondence between your ex and you - Blue
By filing according to subject and date you will be able to locate any particular document in seconds. This can be crucial in court. Not only does it allow you to produce a document quickly, but it also conveys the impression to the court that you're organized and methodical.
What this record does for you:
It jogs your memory, so you can provide accurate dates, times and numbers.
It helps you to disprove your ex's lies and exaggerations by allowing you to provide the exact information mentioned above.
It can be combined with other evidence, such as phone records, school records, medical records, photos, letters, or other documents, to provide proof of incidents, behavior patterns, or other significant issues. It helps to put the other evidences into context, to provide background and "fill in the picture." Each piece of evidence puts another nail in the coffin of a lying opponent.
It can provide you with clues on where to look for the additional evidence mentioned above. Say you want to find a check written to pay for a school outing. Your journal can provide you with the date and make it easier to find it. The same goes for identifying the significance of phone records and other items.
It is certainly better than just your word against hers.
It is absolutely essential if you are trying to prove a pattern of behavior. One incident doesn't prove there is alienating behavior that is harmful to the child. One hundred little incidents, carefully documented, will carry a lot more weight, and will help convince the judge that her behavior is unlikely to change.
It is especially useful when seeking a finding of contempt for failure to comply with a court order. The judge cannot make a finding if he does not know exactly what was done and when.
It helps you to clarify your own thoughts and memories of the incidents. Even if you never use the journal in court, writing everything down helps you to remember the incidents.
How you use your journal is entirely up to you. Some people never like to use their journal in court since the ex can then subpoena it, but they use the information from it to provide the specific times and dates that they list in other court documents (the ex failed to do ex on dddd, she was late on dddd, and she did Y on dddd).