Prepare for a Child-Custody Hearing

Employ these tips before heading into court and boost your chances of winning

Going to your first child-custody hearing can be scary, especially for parents who are unfamiliar with the process. However, with just a little advanced planning, you can present a convincing case and win child custody. In addition to working closely with your child-custody lawyer, use the following tips to prepare for your custody hearing.

1

Understand Your State's Child-Custody Laws

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Child custody laws vary from state to state, so one of the first things you need to do is become familiar with the laws in the state where your custody hearing will be held. Reading the fine print can be tedious, but it will help you to find out for yourself what you're up against before attending the hearing. Reading up on the latest laws can also help you prepare a list of questions to ask your lawyer as your court date approaches.

2

Understand the Better-Parent Standard

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The better-parent standard comes into play when a parent requests sole custody. Essentially, the judge has to be convinced that one parent is better than the other, which can be difficult to prove. To best prepare for your child-custody hearing, be sure to find out what courts in your state are looking for and consult with your lawyer about how to show yourself to be the best caregiver for your children.

3

Bring the Right Documents to Court

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Work with your lawyer to determine what documents to bring to your child-custody hearing and whether your own personal records will be admissible. He or she may suggest that you bring a detailed phone log, annotated visitation schedule, proof of child-support payments, and other notes. 

4

Learn Proper Courtroom Etiquette

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Parents who hope to win child custody must behave appropriately in court or risk losing custody. Discuss proper courtroom etiquette with your lawyer to get a better understanding of what's expected, as well as any pitfalls—like emotional outbursts or accusatory statements—you need to avoid or be on the lookout for. If possible, do some roleplaying with your lawyer in advance, and make sure that you understand the expectations outlined prior to your appearance in court.

5

Know What to Expect During the Hearing

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Child-custody hearings tend to be less adversarial or combative than other types of court cases. Parents seeking to win custody should know what to expect in advance so that they can best be prepared and anticipate each step of the process. One detail that many people don't know is that child-custody cases are not heard before a jury; that's reserved for criminal or civil cases. Your case will be presented in front of the judge, and he or she will likely make an immediate decision and issue a child-custody order. You will have the right to appeal the order, but it won't be decided by a jury.

6

Dress Appropriately

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Finally, parents who hope to win custody should prepare to make a positive first impression. Proper courtroom attire should never be overlooked. You only get one chance to make a good first impression on the judge. Before he hears your case or even knows your child's name, he will form an opinion of you based on your appearance. So talk to your lawyer about what to wear—usually formal, conservative clothing that sends the message "I'm a responsible adult"—to ensure you present yourself in the very best light.

Edited by Jennifer Wolf.

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