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How to prepare for a child custody hearing

Most parents are anxious before a child custody hearing. Part of this anxiety comes from the pressure to prepare and present their case effectively in court. While planning cannot relieve all the emotional tension that a custody hearing may bring, being prepared can make you a more powerful advocate for yourself.

Child custody is based on the best interest of the child and the judge will consider 16 factors to determine which party can provide the best care. If you are preparing for a custody hearing, focus on information the judge will need in order to make that decision.

1. Practice Your Testimony

It can be difficult to recall important details during the hearing. Prepare a list that highlights relevant factors that affect the care and safety of the child, including:

  • Cooperation between parents: Testify about any incidents in the past when the other parent has prevented you from seeing the child or made statements about wanting you out of the picture.
  • Crime or abuse: Any history of crime or violence that puts the child at risk of harm will influence the judge's decision about custody. Include any evidence of abuse or physical violence. You may also request that the other parent completes a drug assessment.
  • Primary caregiver: Let the judge know if you are the main caregiver when it comes to feeding, bathing and taking the child to school. If the other parent is never around, keep a list of the dates the other parent spent time with the child.

2. Prepare Valid Evidence

If the other party denies any portion of your testimony, photographs, records and other important documents can help convince the judge. You also have the right to see what the other party plans to show the court.

  • Print 3 copies: The original for the judge, one copy for the opposing party and the third for your records.
  • Authenticate photographs: For each photograph, have details describing who took the picture, what it shows and whether it accurately depicts what is in the photograph.
  • Print images from social media: Electronic communication or social media evidence can be printed out. Authentification is also necessary for social media evidence.

3. Subpoena Any Witnesses

In order for a witness to testify on your behalf, they first need a subpoena from the court. Prepare a list of questions for your witnesses and the witnesses brought by the other party.

It's important to present your case effectively at a child custody hearing. If you are having difficulty preparing for the hearing, you may benefit from speaking with an experienced family law attorney.

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