Preparing for a child custody hearing can be an intimidating and stressful occasion for any parent. With the future of your relationship with your child uncertain, it is natural to fear the upcoming hearing.
Parents can reduce the anxiety associated with the custody hearing and increase their odds of a positive outcome through effective preparation.
Knowing what to expect at a child custody hearing and having strong evidence ready will allow you to walk into the courtroom with confidence.
Below are five things you must prepare for a successful child custody hearing.
1.) Select the Right Attorney
Child custody is a complex and high stakes area of the law. You will want to select a trusted child custody lawyer to serve as an advocate for you and your child.
With so much on the line in a child custody battle, your choice of an attorney could make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.
You will need to do your homework when it comes to selecting a child custody attorney.
Start by making a list of potential attorneys that work in your region.
Narrow the list down to lawyers who specialize in child custody and family law.
Gather online reviews.
Once you have a short list of potential attorneys, call each firm and schedule an in-person or over the phone consultation. Probe the attorney on his or her experience level, communication policies with clients, fees, and other relevant factors.
Ultimately, you will want to choose an attorney that you feel is the best fit for your case.
2.) Understand the Child Custody Laws in Your Area
As you prepare for your child custody hearing, it is critical that you gain a thorough understanding of child custody laws in your state.
In most states, there is some form of the “best interests of the child” standard. Per this rule, a child custody judge will seek to make custody decisions that are in the best interests of the child’s happiness, emotional development, mental health, and security.
Generally, it is considered to be in the bests interests of the child to maintain a relationship with both parents.
As such, most courts will have a preference for awarding joint custody.
However, there are many factors that could lead a court to determine that sole custody is in the child’s best interests.
Some factors a family law court may consider when making a custody determination include:
These are just some of many factors that a family law judge may weigh when making the crucial determination as to what custody arrangement is in the best interests of your child.
By developing an understanding as to what legal standards will be used to make a custody determination, you will know what evidence you need to present in the hearing to achieve the outcome you desire.
3.) Determine What Custody Arrangement You Want
Before you enter the child custody hearing, you need to know what custody arrangement you are asking for.
Envision your ideal future with your child.
What custody arrangement do you feel will best allow your child to thrive?
By visualizing your ideal arrangement and creating a sample custody agreement, you will know what you are fighting for.
As you set out to draft your perfect custody arrangement, you will first want to understand your options.
In most states, legal custody and physical custody are distinct. Legal custody refers to the parent’s ability to make crucial decisions on behalf of the child, such as where he or she will go to school.
Legal custody options include sole legal custody and joint legal custody.
Physical custody refers to where the child will live most of the time. A court could award joint physical custody, or shared custody.
There are several potential 50/50 joint custody arrangements. Some families will select alternate weeks, while others will alternate, but also insert a midweek visit with the parent who does not have custody that week.
Another option is referred to as the 2-2-3 rotation.
With this schedule, the child will reside with one parent for two days, then the other parent for two days, and then spend three days with the first parent, rotating this by week.
At times, a parent will seek sole physical and legal custody. This is often the case where the other parent has been absent throughout the child’s life, has a mental illness, substance abuse problem, history of violence, or other circumstances exist that would make joint custody a poor choice.
A judge could allow the non-custodial parent some form of visitation with the child.
4.) Gather Documentation to Support Your Case
Your documentary evidence should support the custody arrangement you seek. Relevant documentary evidence will vary by case.
For parents seeking sole custody, evidence that could support this request includes police reports demonstrating dangerous behaviors, phone records showing a lack of contact with the absent parent, and a visitation log depicting the parent’s failure to spend time with the child.
Other documents that could be of use in a custody hearing include your child’s records.
Consider bringing your child’s report cards, doctor’s reports, and written statements from teachers, coaches, or relatives that support your strong relationship with your child.
Bring a copy of your child’s weekly schedule and a map print out showing the distance between your house and the other parent’s home.
All of these documents can aid the court in determining what custody arrangement is going to be in the best interests of your child.
5.) Prepare Your Testimony
At the child custody hearing, you will have the opportunity to be heard before the judge.
Your attorney will help you to prepare your testimony in advance so that you feel comfortable in the courtroom and understand basic courtroom etiquette.
During the hearing, the judge will likely pursue several lines of inquiry.
He or she will likely probe you on what type of custody arrangement you seek.
You will be asked about your financial situation, your relationship and communication with the other parent, and much more.
You will want to answer the judge’s questions fully and honestly. Be sure to address any concerns you may have with a proposed custody arrangement.
If you do not understand a question or need more time to answer, let the court know.
Your testimony is your time to convey your desires to the court. As such, present yourself calmly and impart the points that you have prepared in advance.
The more you learn about child custody laws in your region and the better you prepare for the custody hearing, the greater your chances of a smooth hearing and successful outcome.
For more information about child custody laws and hearings in your state, contact a licensed child custody attorney in your area.
About the Author
Mitchell Cohen, a graduate of New York Law School has been practicing law in Arizona since October 1982. Limiting his practice to all aspects of Family Law, Mr. Cohen is licensed to practice in all Arizona Courts as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States. Mitch is intimately aware of both the financial and emotional issues associated with divorce, custody and support issues. His demonstrated ability to represent his clients aggressively yet compassionately has gained him the respect of clients, judges and opposing counsel.