What to Expect at a Child Custody Hearing
In a child custody battle, the judge is primarily concerned with making decisions that are in the best interest of the child. The judge will ask several questions to determine whether sole or joint custody is appropriate, what the child’s living arrangements will be, what the parents’ access schedule will be, and how the parents will support their child financially. If the circumstances allow, the judge will try her best to ensure that the child will be able to maintain a relationship with both parents.
Each parent should be prepared to provide evidence of their income in order to demonstrate that they are financially capable of caring for the child. The judge may also want the parents to disclose other financial resources and commitments, such as debts or additional children.
The judge will ask about what custody arrangement each parent is seeking and why they are seeking that particular arrangement. Parents may seek either sole custody in which one parent has full custody of the child, or joint custody in which parents share either or both legal and physical custody. A court will usually prefer a joint custody arrangement because joint custody allows the child to maintain a close relationship with both parents, which is viewed as serving the best interests of the child. Because the court’s primary concern is the best interest of the child, a parent seeking sole custody will need to offer a clear reason why joint custody will not serve that interest. A judge may also ask whether the parent’s current custody arrangement is working, because the court may not want to disrupt a successful custody arrangement.
An important factor the judge will consider is the state of the relationship and communication between the parents. Because the court assumes, without further evidence, that spending time with both parents serves the best interests of the child, most judges prefer to grant joint custody of the child, designating one parent as the primary residential custodian for school district purposes. A joint custody arrangement requires that parents communicate regarding decisions that affect the child’s day-to-day life, such as decisions regarding the child’s education, extracurricular activities, travel to and from school and activities, etc. Before deciding to grant joint custody, the judge will want to see that both parents are willing and able to collaborate in a cooperative joint effort to play an active role in the child’s life. The court may ask questions regarding the willingness of each parent to support the child’s relationship with the other parent to ensure that neither parent will stand in the way of the child’s relationship with the other.
Parents should plan in advance for child custody hearings; they should be prepared to answer the above questions, and be prepared to provide detailed information about where the child will sleep (i.e. will the child have his or her own bed while staying with you?). In addition, parents should be prepared to respond to questions regarding their bond with the child (i.e. do you have a close, loving relationship?). Parents should consider bringing to court people such as relatives or babysitters who can support their claims of being an excellent parent for the child. Preparing in advance will allow a parent to be in the best possible position to win their child custody case.
If you or someone you know has questions regarding child custody matters, please contact our family law team at 716-636-7600.