In situations in which parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they must participate in a child custody hearing. Preparing for a custody hearing can feel frightening and overwhelming at first, given the weight of the judge’s decision. However, by following these tips, you can feel more confident entering the courtroom.
1. Become Familiar With State Law
Each state has different laws regarding child custody, so it is imperative to become familiar with how your own state works. In South Carolina, parents can have sole custody, leaving one parent with the decision-making responsibilities, or joint custody, where both parents share equal rights regarding the child.
To determine who receives custody, the judge will consider what is in the “best interests” of the child. They will take into account the emotional, educational, physical, psychological, spiritual, and overall well-being of the child. Courts will also weigh the character of the parent and their ability to provide a stable life for the child, including if any domestic violence was involved.
2. Prepare All Necessary Documents
Prior to the hearing, take time to work with your attorney to gather all essential documents. This may include:
- Proof of any prior child support payments
- Medical reports (yours or your children’s)
- Communication records between you and your former spouse
- Photographs and videos of you with the child(ren)
- Any relevant criminal records
- Report cards
- Write-ups from those who work with your child
- Proof of paternity
Being fully prepared with these documents on hand will make you feel more confident in your case, and let the judge know how serious you are.
3. Know The End Result You Want
Another essential document is a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a schedule that shows your ideal custody arrangement. It proposes time spent with each parent, including the percentage of their time they will spend with you. At the hearing, you will need to explain that this is the best situation for your child, and your reasoning behind it.
Being clear on your proposed plan gives you something to aim for, and communicates to the judge exactly where you stand.
4. Adhere to Courtroom Etiquette
It is important to give the judge a good first impression of who you are. Part of that is the way you dress. Wearing business casual clothing shows you respect all involved in the hearing and are a put-together, responsible adult.
Behavior is also key. Try to avoid becoming too accusatory of your former spouse, too combative, or engaging in emotional outbursts. Feeling prepared going in can help keep your nerves in check so you are able to stay as calm as possible.
5. Seek Counsel From A Family Law Attorney
Lawyers are known to improve your chances of the outcome you are hoping for. They can help you gather and prepare any necessary paperwork, and inform you of what documents and potential evidence you should be holding onto. They will practice with you how to act in the courtroom setting, how to respond to questions and present your parenting plan, as well as the etiquette expected of you.
If you are preparing for an upcoming child custody hearing, or know that one is in your future, our compassionate team of experts will work with you to get the life you want. Don’t hesitate to reach out.