The outcome of a child custody dispute can have tremendous ramifications. The court’s ultimate order will specify how much time you get to spend with your child and what that time will look like, which can reshape your relationship with your child.
With so much on the line, you should avoid walking into court unprepared, as this most assuredly will leave you with an outcome that you don’t want.
The exact steps that you take to prepare for your custody hearing will depend in part on the facts at hand and what you’re hoping to get out of your case. However, there are some broad actions that you should take. Here are some of them:
- Understand the best interests standard: When the court considers making a child custody determination, it will assess what it thinks is in the child’s best interests. At first blush, this can seem like a nebulous standard, but really it’s simply focused on finding an outcome that best supports your child’s safety and well-being.
As part of this determination, the court might also consider which custody arrangement will foster the child’s development of their identity, provide them access to strong educational resources, and will ensure ongoing contact with key family members. Once you understand what the court will look at when deciding your case, you can diligently work to build targeted legal arguments.
- Gather relevant documents: Documentary evidence can help support your child custody case. This might include everything from certified criminal records that show criminality or substance abuse issues possessed by your child’s other parent, to your child’s medical and educational records. Once you have these records in hand, make sure you know how to use them to your advantage.
- Talk to witnesses: Witnesses can be crucial to your case, too. They can help inform the court of your parenting abilities and the bond that you share with your child, or they can draw the other parent’s appropriateness into question. As you’re gathering witnesses to support your case, don’t forget to anticipate the witnesses that the other parent will call so that you can devise a plan to counter their attacks on you.
- Think about a child custody evaluation: Making a child custody determination can be difficult, especially when there are a lot of unfounded claims made or the information presented is so contradictory that it’s hard to make sense of it.
In these instances, the court may order, or you might request, a child custody evaluation. Here, a mental health professional interviews you, the other parent, school personnel, and family and friends to gain a sense of the family’s dynamics. The evaluator also observes parenting time and talks to the child.
Additional testing may be conducted to gauge parenting skills and mental well-being, too.
This culminates in a written report to the court that provides recommendations regarding custody and visitation.
Go into your custody case with a solid game plan
To protect your child and your relationship with them as much as possible, you need to go into your custody case armed with persuasive evidence and strong legal arguments. This will require adequate preparation and an understanding of the law.