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How to Prepare for Your Child Custody Hearing
Published at March 1, 2019 by administrator.
If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can’t agree on how to share time with your children, you need to know how to prepare for a custody hearing. This blog will help you understand the process and put you in the strongest position to argue your case. Let’s talk about the seven essential steps you should take before the court date.
- Understand Florida’s Child Custody Laws
- Know What to Expect at the Child Custody Hearing
- Evaluate Yourself as a Parent
- Evaluate Your Spouse as a Parent
- Gather Evidence to Support Your Case
- Prepare for Questioning
- Follow Courtroom Etiquette
Understand Florida’s Child Custody Laws
Your first step should be to read through the child custody laws in Florida. Since legal statutes can often be difficult to understand, the state of Florida also offers Self-Help Centers in each county and maintains resources on the Florida Courts website. You can explore resources to represent yourself, access the courts, and find other essential forms. However, bear in mind that court staff can only assist you administratively and procedurally. They cannot act as your lawyer or give you legal advice.
Child custody law in Florida is based on a combination of factors – legal statutes, prior court decisions, and the general policy and attitudes of the courts. But most importantly, decisions are based on the best interests of the child. In other words, the entire custody decision focuses on the children’s interests – not the parent’s interests.
Know What to Expect at the Child Custody Hearing
To help you envision the actual hearing and mentally prepare, here’s what to expect:
- Small Setting – For family law matters, you’ll typically meet in a smaller courtroom than you might imagine (unlike those on television). This makes it a bit less overwhelming.
- Few Participants – The hearing will include the judge, parents, their lawyers (if involved), and any witnesses either party has invited to speak. There is no jury, as the judge will make the decision.
- Brief Meeting – The courts must schedule many cases each day. Their goal is to be efficient and work through your information as quickly as possible. That’s why it’s so important to have your arguments clear and ready to go.
- Questioning – Just like a job interview, the judge will ask you and your spouse a series of questions to better understand your parenting skills and ability to provide for your children.
- Immediate Decision – Unless the judge requests more information or an evaluation by a social worker or psychologist, the judge will make a decision at the close of the hearing.
Evaluate Yourself as a Parent
Your spouse (and possibly their lawyer) will put you under a microscope. Instead of waiting for them to use your weaknesses as ammunition, be ready to defend yourself. Ask yourself these questions (and get feedback from close friends and family):
- What bad choices or decisions have I made?
- In what areas am I weakest when it comes to parenting?
- Which of my parenting skills did my spouse claim to be wrong?
- Is there anything my child(ren) will be lacking if they live with me?
Now that you have an idea of what they might use against you, prepare answers about what you’ve learned and how you’re actively working on improving any deficiencies.
Evaluate Your Spouse as a Parent
Next, prepare your own case. As you think through these questions, be honest and impartial. Stick to the points relevant to their abilities as a parent. Creating a laundry list of your spouse’s failings will not impress the judge. They want to see that your focus is on the children’s best interests, not your need to be right or vindicated.
- Does your spouse have questionable personality traits that would put your child at risk?
- What past choices reflect negatively on their ability to parent?
- What are your spouse’s weaknesses as a parent?
- Will your child(ren) be deprived of anything if they stay with your spouse?
Gather Evidence to Support Your Case
Now that you’ve evaluated yourself and your spouse, you need to collect and document evidence to support your arguments. Here are a few examples:
- Financial stability – Tax records or pay stubs to prove income and job longevity
- Proof of decision-making – Documents from your children’s doctor or their school showing that you were responsible for medical and educational decisions about your children
- Proof of financial support – Records of on-time payment (or on the other hand, proof that your spouse hasn’t been paying on time)
- Proof of abuse – Police records or medical reports
- Phone logs – Proof of contacting your children on a regular basis (if you haven’t been living with them during the divorce process)
- Schedules – Evidence that their school or extracurricular activities will not be affected (especially if children are thriving)
You can also invite witnesses such as doctors, teachers, neighbors, or friends who have seen and can vouch for your interaction with your child (or negative interaction by your spouse).
Prepare for Questioning
As noted earlier, the judge will likely ask you and your spouse several questions to help them understand what you’ve presented. Be sure to write out your answers, making them brief and compelling. Practice them so you can respond quickly and with confidence. Here are some examples of what a judge might ask:
- What is your financial status?
- What are your living arrangements?
- What type of custody arrangement are you seeking and why?
- How well do you communicate with the other parent?
- Do you have an existing formal or informal child custody arrangement? How is it working?
- What are your work hours and how will they affect time with your child?
Make sure you’ve written down brief, strong answers to questions a judge might ask about your finances, living situation, or skills as a parent.
Follow Courtroom Etiquette
Courtroom behavior is an important aspect of any child custody hearing. Showing respect for the judge, attorneys, witnesses, and especially your spouse will give the impression you want – that you’re a responsible adult and good parent. Here are a few pointers:
- Dress conservatively – The judge will form an opinion from the moment you step into courtroom. Choose muted colors, long sleeves, and closed toe shoes. Above all, look your best – clean, well-groomed, and professional.
- Avoid outbursts – Although divorce is an emotional event, outbursts or interruptions during the hearing could affect how the judge perceives you as a parent.
- Don’t speak out of turn – The judge and attorney are the only ones who may speak freely. If you have a question or need clarification, ask your attorney to address the issue.
Hopefully, we’ve answered your questions about how to prepare for a custody hearing. As you can see, it requires a clear strategy for success. If you’d like experienced legal counsel during this important process, the Stafford Law Firm is ready to assist. We can help you understand your legal rights, develop strong arguments for your case, and ease your mind as you head into the child custody hearing. Contact us for a consultation.