What to Expect During Child Custody Proceedings

Female judge in her chambers writing at table

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Court appearances can be quite frightening, especially when the custody of your child is being determined. Parents should walk into all child custody proceedings as prepared as possible. Here's some information about what to expect during family court proceedings and how to prepare for the best possible outcomes.

Preparing for Child Custody Court

When you enter a court to argue for child custody, it's important to be as prepared as possible. Preparation means having your arguments lined up, but it also means bringing along the right people and dressing appropriately. Here are four key things to have lined up:

  • Answers to possible questions: If you have a full-time job and a young child, for example, it's likely the judge will ask, "Where will your child go after school?" If you're living in a one-bedroom apartment, the judge will want to know where your child will sleep. Have answers to such questions ready to go.
  • Important people: This might include babysitters or teachers who can accurately and effectively support your claims of being a top-notch parent.
  • Your arguments: If you have a lawyer, they will help you with this; if not, you yourself can think through such important questions like, "Do I have a suitable living arrangement for my child?" and "Can I provide the emotional support my child needs?"
  • Your outfit: Veer formal and conservative in your clothing, hairstyle, and makeup that sends the message "I'm a responsible adult."

Plan for a Small Setting

Unlike a criminal matter, a family matter is less adversarial. The matter is generally presented in a much smaller setting than one might imagine.

The typical courtroom used for child custody proceedings is much smaller and more intimate than courtrooms shown on television, and very few people will be in the room.

Anticipate a Limited Time Frame

Judges, mediators, and custody adjudicators hear a number of cases on a daily basis. Therefore, there's a strong chance that a child custody case won't last very long because there might be a number of sessions being conducted.

Parents participating in child custody proceedings should work with their attorneys to synthesize all information and be prepared to put their best foot forward in a short amount of time.​

Be Ready for Multiple Testimonies

During a child custody proceeding, the following parties will speak:

  • Child (if the child is of an age to make an informed decision)
  • Parents
  • Witnesses (including workers, school officials, etc.)

The parties will testify about their experiences with the child and the parents. The parties may also form an opinion on which parent may be better suited to serve as the primary parent to the child.

Expect an Immediate Decision

After both parties have presented their side in defense of a particular custody arrangement, a judge will render his/her decision. When reaching a determination for child custody, a judge will make a decision based on the child's best interests.

The Judge's Decision Will Include

A parent who would like more information about what to expect during a child custody hearing should speak to his/her attorney or visit a public child custody hearing to prepare themselves for the child custody case. The best thing for parents to do is to prepare in advance. By preparing, a parent will be in the best position to win their child custody case.

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  1. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Children's Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS. Determining the best interests of the child. Updated March 2016.