what to expect in court

Child Custody Hearings: What To Expect

Goldberg JonesChild Custody, Featured Posts 3 Comments

What do you need to know about child custody hearings?

Custody battles tend to become heated and contentious. Emotions run high, parents often drag each other through the mud, and it’s generally a harrowing experience. This all makes sense: we love our kids and want them to remain a big part of our lives. But what should you expect to find when you sit down in court?

  • What do these hearings look like?
  • What should you expect to hear?
  • What kind of questions will you have to answer?

Come with us as we dig into these and other related questions.

Preparing For Child Custody Hearings

Like most family law cases, child custody hearings have no universal roadmap. If there were, things would be much easier. But you can’t simply walk in, have your say, and walk out with an easily anticipated result.

Preparation is key. If you’ve hired a child custody lawyer, he or she should be able to help you get ready. Still, knowing what you’re getting into before you set foot in a courtroom is good.

With that in mind, here are some things you should expect from child custody hearings.

How the Court Decides on Child Custody

The court weighs many factors when determining custody and establishing a parenting plan.

The overarching question that eclipses everything else is what’s in the child’s best interest?

To determine this, the court evaluates many different elements. How much influence each has varies from one case to the next.

The Judge Considers:

    • The strength of the relationship between the child and each parent.
    • The age of the child.
    • Stability—for instance, if switching schools, especially in the middle of a school year, can be avoided, it often will.
    • Each parent’s ability to care for the child, both physically and emotionally.
    • Willingness to co-parent.
    • Any history or evidence of domestic violence or abuse.
    • The child’s needs.

Related Reading: Co-Parenting Strategies for Divorced Parents

Questions You’ll Be Asked at Child Custody Hearings

The ultimate goal of child custody hearings is to determine the parenting plan and establish how much time kids spend with each parent. To make this decision, the court needs quite a bit of information. As a result, you’ll have to answer many questions. These are just a few:

What Type of Parenting Plan Do You Want?

There are many potential custody arrangements. You may want your child to live with you full-time. Weekend visitation is a common arrangement. In cases when parents live far apart, splitting holidays and significant school breaks often form key pieces of the parenting plan.

It’s important to consider what you want out of a child custody hearing ahead of time so you know how to answer these questions.

How’s Your Relationship with Your Ex?

In some cases, exes can go their separate ways after divorce and never see each other again. When you have kids, however, that’s not usually an option.

The court views having both parents in a child’s life as in their best interest. Unless there are mitigating factors, you will have at least some contact.

At a minimum, you need to be able to communicate on a functional level, and a judge will likely ask if that’s possible.

Who’s Been Caring For The Child?

Do you and your ex have a current parenting plan in place, either formal or informal?

If one parent has been the primary caregiver, it can influence the court’s decision. If a certain custody arrangement works, or appears to work, they may hesitate to interfere or alter the situation.

You will most likely have to field many other questions during custody hearings. Expect to have every area of your life and relationships probed. You may have to show evidence of your parenting ability or provide witnesses who can testify to the nature of your relationship with your children.

Related Reading: What’s in a Parenting Plan? 

Don’t Assume Mom Always Wins

There’s a perception that mothers have the upper hand when it comes to child custody hearings. While that may have been the case in years past, it isn’t anymore, at least not legally.

That’s not to say it always plays out on an even field, or that an individual judge won’t have a bias. But in a strict letter-of-the-law sense, fathers and mothers have the same claims to custody in Washington state.

Increasingly, courts recognize the importance of having both parents in a child’s life whenever possible.

Unless there are extenuating circumstances—for instance, issues with abuse or neglect—parenting plans will likely shake out in this fashion. How it balances out, however, depends on the specifics of individual cases.

Related Reading: Can Your Ex Keep Your Child From Playing Sports?

Consider Hiring a Lawyer for Custody Hearings

As with most family law matters, child custody hearings often become complicated. You may want to consider hiring an attorney. Having an experienced professional in your corner helps your cause immensely.

A lawyer can help guide you through a tricky process, prepare you for your day in court, and let you know what to expect. It’s often the difference between getting what you want, and what’s best for your kids, and missing out.

Related Reading: How to Dress For Court: Divorce and Child Custody Hearings

Comments 3

  1. Hi, could you pls contact me by email and let me know your contact number. I have some questions that would like to consult on. I tried called all the numbers shown on the website but can’t get thru.

    1. Post

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for reaching out. Sorry there were problems with the phones. I passed your contact along to our managing attorney, Ken Alan, and he will reach out to you shortly. In the meantime, if you need to contact us, our Seattle office number is (206) 448-1010. There’s usually someone there to answer between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM.

  2. Thanks for pointing out that the relationship between a person and their ex after a divorce will also affect the possible outcome of a child custody case. A friend of mine is currently planning to file a divorce later this year due to the alcoholism of her spouse. Maybe talking to an expert on family law would be best so that she can always take her daughter into consideration in every step of the process.

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