Attending a child custody hearing can be scary if you are not familiar with the process. However, with a little planning and conversation with your child custody attorney, you can walk into court prepared. In this article, we will explore how to prepare for a custody hearing so you walk into court with confidence.
- Research the Child Custody Laws in Your State
The laws regarding child custody can and do vary from state to state, so it’s important to do a little research and find out about the child custody laws in your state. While it’s best to seek the advice of a qualified child custody attorney, doing some preliminary research of your own may help you feel more confident and give you some peace of mind as you begin this process. Knowledge is power.
- Understand What Standards the Court Will Consider
No matter which state you live in, the court will consider what is in the best interest of your child. This is called the “Best Interest Standard.” This one factor is especially true if you or the other parent is requesting sole custody of your child. In applying this standard, the court will then determine if it is in the best interest of your child to live with one parent instead of the other.
In order to prepare for this, it’s vital to speak with your child custody lawyer. Your attorney will explain which factors the court will consider in your state. This is one of the first steps you need to take to prepare for a custody hearing.
It’s vital that you are completely honest with your attorney, even if some of it is embarrassing to you. Your child custody attorney needs to know these details in advance of your custody hearing so they are prepared for that information to come out in court.
Some of the other factors judges may take into consideration when deciding child custody include your child’s age, medical issues, developmental issues, your work, how much time you can spend with your child, cultural and/or religious background or concerns, the child’s connection to your community, and whether you or the child’s other parent have a criminal history or a history of abuse.
If your child is a teenager, they may have a say in how child custody is decided.
- Make Sure to Organize All Your Evidence
Your child custody attorney is going to need evidence to present to the court. In most cases, it’s going to be up to you to gather that evidence. When it comes down to preparing for a custody hearing, this is one of the most important steps.
You may want to gather photographs, video and/or audio recordings, voicemails, text messages, medical records, report cards, and any correspondence with your child’s teachers.
Also compile a list of people who are willing to testify on your behalf in court. These witnesses may have seen your interactions with your child or how the other parent has interacted with your child – if that interaction raised concerns.
Other types of evidence you and your child custody attorney may choose to use are detailed phone logs of when your child spoke to the other parent or you or visitation schedules that include when the other parent was late or didn’t show up at all.
Your attorney may be able to use any evidence you’ve gathered to help you win your child custody case in court.
- Learn Courtroom Etiquette
Another way to prepare for a custody hearing is to know courtroom etiquette and take it seriously. If you want to win your case, you must know how to behave appropriately. One inappropriate outburst or failure to follow proper procedure could result in offending the court, and you could lose custody of your child.
Talk to your child custody attorney about what will be expected of you in court and how to behave in an appropriate manner.
- Let Your Attorney Do the Talking
There is no easier way of angering a family court judge than to talk over someone else or engage in an emotional outburst or argument during your child custody hearing.
The best rule of thumb for how to prepare for a custody hearing is to stay silent and trust that your child custody attorney will speak on your behalf in court – unless the judge speaks to you directly.
- Keep Your Language Focused on Your Child
Remember that state laws regarding child custody are centered around what is in the best interest of your child. This means that any comment you make in court must be focused on what is best for your child.
For example, if the child’s other parent abuses drugs and/or alcohol, don’t say things like, “He’s a total loser, you should see his apartment – it’s a mess.” Instead, you should say something like, “I know he loves our child, but he just can’t seem to get his substance abuse problem under control.”
See the difference? One of your steps in how to prepare for your custody hearing should be practicing what you say and how you say it. Make sure every sentence is focused on the child.
- Maintain Your Composure
A custody hearing can be one of the most stressful things you may ever experience, but what you may not realize is that your attitude and demeanor can make all the difference. You must keep your emotions in check during the hearing.
If you have an aggressive or angry attitude, check it at the door of the courthouse. It will get you nowhere in front of a family court judge and could cost you custody of your child.
You must maintain your cool in front of any attorneys, court personnel, and the judge no matter what the other parent or their attorney is saying. If you start any type of drama or engage in a screaming match or hysterics, the judge will not look at you in a favorable light, and you could lose custody of your child.
Additionally, you should never sound arrogant or over-confident when you talk in the courthouse. Besides your attitude, leave your ego at the door of the courthouse as well.
When it comes to ways to prepare for a custody hearing, a lot of what occurs in that hearing is up to you and your attorney. The main thing to remember is that you must keep yourself calm and refrain from engaging the other parent in a yelling match.
Make sure you keep good records of any missed visitations, voicemails, texts, posts on social media, etc. that you may be able to use as evidence in your custody hearing.
Also ask your child custody attorney about what you can do to manage your image when you walk into court. Your attorney should be able to tell you how to present yourself in the best possible way to the court to obtain the child custody outcome you desire.