Going to court isn’t easy, especially when you’re dealing with custody matters. Not much is more emotional than fighting for custody of your children. How much time you get with them is on the line, and how a judge rules could impact your time with them until they turn eighteen.
That’s why it’s critically important that you hire an experienced family lawyer to represent you and that you rigorously prepare for your case.
The process begins before you go to court. Your attorney will need to prepare documents requesting a custody hearing, proposing a certain schedule, and explaining why the court should grant it. These pre-trial steps will require you to do the following:
In matters of custody, everyone has to give up something because a judge will normally want children to see both parents. That means that, under the best circumstances, you will be awarded primary custody while the other parent is awarded visitation or supervised visitation.
Consider what you are willing to give up and discuss this with your lawyer so it can be included in your proposal. Going into the hearing offering zero visitation will make you look unreasonable and could hurt you in the long run.
Any evidence that demonstrates how you provide stability and consistency for your children can be helpful. For example, if you can show that your home is in their school district or you take them to their weekly sports activities, a judge may see why it is important for them to spend time in your care.
During the hearing, your attorney will present your requests to the judge. The other parent’s attorney will also present his or her case. Both sides may call witnesses and ask them questions. Your attorney will speak on your behalf, so you will only need to speak if you are called to testify.
A judge will listen to testimony and may ask direct questions if something needs to be clarified. In some custody cases, a guardian ad litem will be appointed to meet with the children, watch how both parents interact with them, and create a report for the judge to review. This report is used as a third-party opinion on what custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the children.
Once the judge has reviewed all evidence and listened to testimony, he or she will deliberate and make a custody decision—usually on the same day as the hearing. The judge’s ruling will then be put into a final order, and both parents will need to abide by it.