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Child Custody | Divorce

Character Support Letters in Child Custody Cases: Guidelines and Example

8 min read
Hazel Caldwell, Attorney

by Hazel Caldwell, Attorney

It can be difficult to prove a person is a good mother or a good father when in the scary environment of a courtroom. Providing specific examples of a parent’s fitness in a written character reference letter can make a real difference in the outcome of a child custody case. Whether you’re requesting or writing these letters, it’s important to take them seriously.

Due to the risk of prejudice (losing important legal rights like the right to cross-examination), in most situations, evidentiary and court rules will prohibit you from simply sending an informal letter to a judge. As such, unless otherwise directly advised, you will need to prepare the letter as an affidavit or declaration or include a formal document to introduce the letter. A lawyer or court representative will need to guide you through the specific procedures of your local court.

Read further to learn what a character reference letter is, when it can be needed, what legal restrictions apply, and to see a sample template. Because each jurisdiction, case and family dynamic is different, consultation with a lawyer in your area is highly advised to determine whether and how a character reference letter can be accepted.

What is a Custody Character Reference Letter?

A custody character reference letter is a written, third-party statement that provides insight into the fitness of a parent. It is a form of character testimony with specific procedural and evidentiary rules. Depending on the actual dispute, the requested letter may focus on proving the fitness of the parent generally or in showing how the parent has overcome a specific issue from the past. The weight given to these letters depends on the credibility of the writer and the relevance of the content – again note that it is likely the judge will need to hold a hearing so the other side is able to question the writer as a witness.

For example, a general character reference letter may give examples of how the parent interacts and guides the child, to show the court that the parent is fit to provide mentorship and stability. In other cases, a character reference letter may focus specifically on the parent’s drug rehabilitation efforts, engagement with a spiritual or religious community, or other examples showing that specific mistakes that may have made the parent unfit in the past have been addressed. 

A character reference letter may be useful in many situations when child custody rights are disputed because of the conduct of parents. However, due to evidentiary rules to protect the rights of litigants, character reference letters may not be used in every case and several procedures should be followed.

Legal Considerations for Character Reference Letters

There are several legal principles that limit the permissibility, procedure, and contents of a character reference letter, including rules around the judge’s impartiality (which prohibits ex parte communications) and evidentiary laws around admissibility of evidence. This ensures the fair administration of justice and preserves the rights of both parties to examine the evidence being relied on by the judge. Ex parte communications, in which a judge is contacted by one party outside of normal court procedures and without the knowledge of the other party, are especially out of line.

These issues mean that if you simply submit an uninvited, unsigned letter to the court, it is highly likely to be disregarded. If the judge relies on an unsigned or ex parte letter to make a fact-finding decision, the rights of the other side could be undermined. They may then be able to appeal the decision, leading to problems for the judge, your lawyer, and your case. 

On the other hand, there are certain situations when a court will accept letters due to necessity, such as if the person writing is unable to come to court to testify or if the case is not yet at the stage of a hearing but a simple matter needs to be resolved. In the latter case, the magistrate or other official will invite the letters and explain the specific issue that needs to be addressed. 

Therefore, to properly submit any piece of evidence, including a letter regarding character and fitness, specific rules of procedure and evidence must be followed. In most cases, the letter will need to be accompanied with or part of a sworn statement as to your legal fitness to provide testimony and that the contents are true. This sworn statement could be in the form of an affidavit or declaration.

Again, seeking guidance from an attorney in your area is the best course of action to ensure your letter is actually read.

Choosing a Letter Writer

It is important to consider the specific legal disputes in your case when thinking about who an appropriate letter author can be. A lawyer can help you think strategically about what issues the judge may have when awarding the custody rights you are seeking, which influences who you should ask for a letter. 

As an example, if the main issue in your case is an allegation that you are not sufficiently involved in the daily life of your child, then a letter that explains how you have engaged with your child and supported him or her in hobbies and education would be helpful. This letter could be from a teacher, church leader, or sports coach who has personally seen you interacting with your child and attending various activities. Similarly, a letter from a family friend or neighbor that has seen your parenting style and is familiar with your guiding values can also be useful.

To be most credible, the author should be able to describe specific examples of how they have seen you parent, such as actions you have taken in prioritizing your child’s interests or specific conflicts that you have resolved for your child.  

Alternatively, if there is an accusation that your custody rights should be reduced due to a mistake in the past, such as a DUI or alcoholism, you may seek a letter from someone in a relevant program showing that you have actively worked on and resolved this issue. This letter might come from a group like Alcoholics Anonymous, your religious leader, or another nonprofit organization.

Remember that it is very likely that this person may be required to come to court as a witness. Depending on your area, the court or your lawyer may subpoena them to request their presence in court. If you are called to testify, it will only be regarding the contents of the letter and as to character and fitness of the parent and you should not be afraid to speak the truth in the interest of justice.

What to Include and What NOT to Include in a Character Reference Letter:

Good judgment and common sense applies when writing a custody character letter. Note that they will be read by a judge and considered in court as part of the evidence in the case.


  • Describe the relationship between the writer, the parent, and the child
  • Provide specific examples that address the legal issues in dispute
  • Be honest, clear, and specific 


  • Disparage or attack the other parent
  • Exaggerate or lie
  • Include information that is not from personal knowledge

Sample Informal Character Reference Letter for Child Custody

You should seek assistance from a lawyer to advise you on the specific formats and expectations of your local court or judge. Generally, a letter like the following will be accepted, but it will very likely need to be attached as an exhibit to a declaration or affidavit from a lawyer to ensure evidentiary rules and hearing procedures are followed:

[Letter writer’s full name]

[Letter writer’s address]

[Letter writer’s city, state, zip code]

[Letter writer’s email]

[Letter writer’s phone number] 


Re: Character Reference Letter for [PARENT NAME] in Case _____ v. ______, [Case number]

To the Honorable Judge/ Administrator  ______:

I am [letter writer name], a [role/ relationship – teacher, neighbor, caseworker]. [If there is no separate affidavit or declaration, you must include a statement of your legal competency: I am over the age of 18, of sound mind, and have no personal interest in this case.] I am writing on behalf of [parent name] to [purpose: e.g. to show fitness as a parent, to show sobriety program participation]. I have known [parent] for _____ and have interacted with her/him [describe the amount of time – how many times or hours per week, month, etc.].

[One to three paragraphs providing specific examples of the relationship between parent and child, the character of the parent, or describing the participation of the parent in programs – these should be guided by the legal issues of the case.]

Therefore, please consider [parent] as a fit parent that has the best interests of his/her child in mind. I have no hesitation in recommending [parent] and can be reached for further questions, if needed.



[letter writer name]

[Notarization information]

  • General and specific factors considered in modern child custody cases, 7 Law and the Family New York § 65:18 et seq (2023 ed.) (§ 65:18 introduction, § 65:25 psychological fitness, § 65:32 “friendly parent” in arranging visitations, § 65:33 “more fit” parent comparison, § 65:18)
  • Admissibility of character evidence for child custody cases considered, Matter of J.L.V., Jr., 667 N.E.2d 186, 191 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996)
  • Judge quotes the personal qualities in a character letter from a family friend in same-sex adoption case, Matter of Adoption of Caitlin, 622 N.Y.S.2d 835, 837 (Fam. Ct. 1994) (“practicing Catholic and she has been highly recommended by her pastor”).

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