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Book Review – The Child Custody Book by Judge James Stewart is the book you are likely to see first when you research the child custody topic in a book store. Its compelling title (including the tagline “How to Protect Your Children and Win Your Case”) may be the reason why it is believed to be the best selling child custody book title in the U.S. This fact was reason enough for me to have a closer look at its content and see what you can expect.
Child custody is a pretty broad topic that is reflected by the book’s 13 chapters that range from the role of attorneys over parenting plans to psychological evaluations, tips how to find a great attorney (and dump that lazy one), how much your custody battle will cost and how you should behave in front of a judge and evaluator. In fact, I do not know any other book that covers more child custody topics.
However, when you hold the book in your hands for the first time, you can’t help but wonder how Stewart was able to run through those 13 main chapters as well as 89 (!) sub-chapters in just 150 pages. Each sub-chapter, which usually deals with a significant question by itself, gets less than two pages of room on average.
Stewart does not dive deep. He scratches only the surface on matters that often call for more insight and explanation. For example, the entire topic of parenting plans is described on five pages. There are books that spend hundreds of pages on parenting plans and it is clear that those five pages can only scratch the surface of the topic. I would have hoped that an experienced judge would have shared much more of his experience on such critical topics than is the case here.
On the upside, Stewart does cover a variety of topics in easy to understand language and in a very down-to-earth way. In fact, you may even get stuck reading the book longer than you anticipate. Each chapter is structured in introduction, explanation and advice (“Do’s and Don’ts”). I personally found Stewart’s advice especially helpful and caught myself jumping ahead to read the do’s and don’ts before looking at the actual chapter content. It’s a great concept that can save you a lot of time.
It is easy to expect much more from The Child Custody Book than it can deliver – simply because of its title. From my own experience, I can say that the promise that the book will tell you how to “win your case” is overly bold. There is certainly not enough information to guide you through a nasty custody battle. What you get, however, is a hint of what a custody battle will mean for your children, your spouse and yourself.
Given the fact that this book is authored by a judge and not a psychologist, it should not be too surprising that it turned out to be a rather cold and straight-forward translation of child custody proceedings. I personally found the chapters of the role of attorneys and how to conduct yourself during a custody hearing the most interesting ones. You will learn about the effects of a negative campaign, private versus public evaluation, how you contest a child evaluation, which people you need to convince in your custody case or how you find a good attorney and how you spot one who is more interested in emptying your pocket book than defending you and helping you find what is best for your children.
All divorced or divorcing parents with children are able to relate somewhat to these topics and at least I can say that I should have read the attorney chapter a little earlier. It could have saved me a few thousand dollars.
So, who should read this book? Anyone who is starting the custody process and is trying to figure out what to expect. Anyone who is caught up in a custody battle without outside help trying to understand why no one in the legal system cares about emotions. As a simple on-the-surface guide to the custody process, the book is all about business and there is a good chance that it will help you adjust and understand what makes judges and lawyers tick. It will give you basic ideas about what matters and what does not.
The book is already nine years old and especially the cost chapter is a bit dated, but if you see The Child Custody Book as a general guideline without in-depth information, you won’t be disappointed and it may even be deep enough for your general custody proceedings. But for those nasty fights, you will need much more specialized books.
Pluses: Down-to-earth and almost entertaining writing style, clear chapter structuring with question-based sub-chapters that are summarized with precise advice what you should do and what not. Huge topic range.
Minuses: Barely scratches the surface of most topics and will disappoint if you believe the book will win you custody of your children. A bit dated.
Takeaway: I personally was somewhat disappointed by the depth of information provided. While there is lots of incredibly helpful advice that can be quickly learned by the reader, it does not conclusively explain the reasons for the advice given. It reminded me a bit of a high school scenario when you ask a teacher the “Why?” question and you get the answer “Because I say so.” If you are not so much interested in what is going on behind the legal and psychological curtain, it is a book we absolutely recommend. If your custody battle gets nasty, expect that you will have to buy more (and much more expensive) books.
The Child Custody Book, How to Protect Your Children and Win Your Case, by Judge James W. Stewart; 174 pages; Impact Publishers, 2000; $16.95
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