6 Tips to Help Prepare for Your Child Custody Hearing

Going to your first child-custody hearing can be scary, especially for parents who are unfamiliar with the process. However, with just a little advance 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.


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.


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.


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. They may suggest that you bring a detailed phone log, annotated visitation schedule, proof of child-support payments, and other notes. 


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 role-playing with your lawyer in advance.

Make sure that you understand the expectations outlined prior to your appearance in court.


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 they 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.


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 they hear your case or even know your child's name, they will form an opinion of you based on your appearance.

So talk to your lawyer about what to wear to ensure you present yourself in the very best light.

Usually formal, conservative clothing that sends the message "I'm a responsible adult."

Edited by Jennifer Wolf.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Administration for Children and Families. Children's Bureau. Determining the best interests of the child.

  2. Virginia Legal Aid Society. How to take a child custody or visitation case to court.

  3. Michigan Supreme Court Friend of the Court Bureau. Michigan custody guideline.

By Debrina Washington
Debrina Washington is a New York-based family law attorney and writer, who runs her own virtual practice to assist single parents with legal issues.