How Can I Prepare for a Child Custody Hearing?
Child custody hearings are official court meetings that are set up when separating or divorcing parents cannot work through their differences. Those present at the hearings usually include the child’s parents or guardians, lawyers, and a family law judge.
Your first hearing can seem intimidating because you do not know what to expect. Understanding how the process works and preparation are both key.
Before filing for a hearing, it is wise for the parents to try every means possible to work out their disagreements. Should negotiations prove unsuccessful, it is wise to contact an experienced lawyer who is familiar with your state’s custody laws, court rules and procedures, and local judges.
Every state has its own custody procedures, but you can expect to file a petition for custody with the local court in the county and state that your child has lived in for at least six months. The petition includes:
- Information on both parents.
- Child’s identifying information, such as name, birth date, and Social Security number.
- Child’s current custodial arrangements.
- Proposed custody arrangement and why it is in the child’s best interest.
You will also need to include information regarding any previous family court cases. The other parent will be served with a notice of the filing, and a hearing date will be arranged.
Your lawyer will be able to explain your state’s child custody laws to you in detail, and it is a good idea to read them yourself and prepare a list of questions to ask as well. If you are seeking sole custody, the judge will need to be persuaded that one parent is more fit than the other, and this is not easy to prove. Learn about what your state’s courts look for in this respect, and ask your lawyer how you can prove that you are your child’s best caregiver.
As the hearing approaches, avoid any behaviors that could impact your case. It is never a good idea to bad-mouth the other parent to the children or on social media; both could be used against you at a later time. Do not instruct your children to say anything that is untrue.
Be sure to understand what proper courtroom etiquette is before you attend the hearing, including knowing what to avoid saying. Courts do not appreciate accusatory statements and emotional outbursts. You can try roleplaying with your lawyer before the hearing date to help you prepare.
Dressing and grooming appropriately is vital at child custody hearings because you want to make a positive impression. Also, know what documents you will need to bring, and if your personal records might be admissible. These could include proof of child support payments, phone logs, and visitation schedules. Parents may also need to bring proposed parenting plans, relevant photographs and videos, police reports/criminal records, entries from parenting journals, and more.
What Will Happen at the Child Custody Hearing?
There may be additional steps that have to be taken before your hearing, like a custody evaluation. During this process, a neutral mental health professional will conduct an investigation that might include interviewing the parents, children, teachers, therapists, and they may make a recommendation. The report will be sent to the court and may be discussed at the hearing.
When both parents attend the hearing and come to an agreement, the court can settle the case. If only one shows up, the court can issue a default judgment. These hearings are often less adversarial than other kinds of court cases. If the parents are both present and still cannot agree, the court will then schedule a custody trial.
Unlike other kinds of court cases, child custody trials do not have juries, only judges are used to make the determinations. Contested custody trials take time to arrange, as both parents must prepare and present evidence and use witnesses if needed.
These cases can be time-consuming and expensive for both parties. Judges let both parents present their explanations as to why they are the one who is best suited to care for the child. These determining factors vary from state to state.
To determine custody, judges will examine the following of each parent:
- Capability to provide the child’s food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities.
- Desire to have custody.
- Physical and mental well-being.
- Willingness to promote an ongoing, meaningful relationship with the child and other parent.
Judges also evaluate the child’s:
- Relationship with both parents and siblings.
- Home and school records.
- Which parent they want to live with, if they are an appropriate age.
- Any special needs.
Judges will also want to know if there is a history of child abuse or domestic violence and any other factors they feel are pertinent to the case. When the hearing is concluded, the judge issues the decision. This can be made right there and then, or the parents may have to wait for the decision to be sent to them.
A final custody decision can be appealed, but you may be able to modify it instead. If you believe that your child’s custody plan places them in danger, you may have the option of filing an emergency request to change custody.
Marlton Divorce Lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. Will Put Your Child’s Best Interests First Throughout Your Custody Case
Our seasoned Marlton divorce lawyers at Goldstein & Mignogna, P.A. can help you prepare for a custody hearing and help you throughout the entire process. To learn more and to schedule an initial consultation, call us at 856-890-9400 or complete our online form. Located in Marlton, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Burlington County, Camden County, and Gloucester County.