Any time a parent must experience a child custody hearing, things can be stressful. However, knowing what to expect can help ease your fears and nervousness while also allowing you to better prepare for the custody hearing itself. Here at the Jimenez Law Firm, we want you to understand what you can expect at your first hearing and understand the process.
Child Custody Hearing – What to Expect
Child custody hearings are led by a judge rather than presented before a jury. It is the judge who will make the final decision and issue any orders pertaining to your case. The best thing you can do in any child custody case is to make sure you’ve hired a great family law attorney to represent both you and your children’s best interests during the proceedings.
Types of hearings
The type of hearing will play a role in how long the hearing lasts, what information you need to provide, and much more. Your lawyer will help you understand what type of hearing to expect as well as help you prepare for the hearing.
Temporary order hearings
If one of the child’s parents has requested temporary orders, then both parents will explain their side to the judge. The purpose of temporary orders is to provide a short-term solution to any immediate parenting disputes that cannot wait to be resolved.
Temporary order hearings are much like a short trial. Depending on the county where the hearing is held, parents receive a limited amount of time to present their arguments.
It’s not uncommon to see temporary order hearings when parents are about to go through the divorce process yet disagree on certain issues regarding their minor children. The temporary orders will serve their purpose until the divorce and final orders are finalized.
Uncontested or default final hearings
If both parents are able to reach an agreement on all custody issues (as well as other issues if they are going through a divorce) then the case is considered uncontested. In the event that the other parent does not respond within the timeframe despite being served with court paperwork, then this is considered to be a default hearing.
Most uncontested and default hearings last only a few minutes. Closing arguments are presented to the judge. The judge may ask a few questions. And, as long as the judges agree that the request is in the best interest of the child, they’ll sign the final documents.
In some situations, your attorney may schedule a hearing simply to ask the judge a question. For example, if one parent wishes the other parent to undergo a custody evaluation, then your attorney will likely schedule a hearing and present the request to the judge who will then decide whether or not to order the evaluation.
Preparing for Child Custody Court
It’s important to understand that how you present yourself at your initial court hearings as well as subsequent custody hearings could affect you and your children for years to come. Child custody cases shouldn’t be taken lightly and it’s important to choose an attorney that focuses on your best interests as a parent and the best interests of your children. It’s equally important that you listen to your attorneys as they guide you through your child custody case.
Prior to your initial hearing, you’ll want to make sure you gather and organize all evidence for your case. Your lawyers will advise you on the Texas Rules of Evidence. Depending on the reason for your custody case, you may need to prepare a parenting plan and/or custody or visitation schedule. You’ll also want to make sure that you are prepared with enough copies of any paperwork for yourself, the other parent, as well as the judge.
It’s not uncommon for hearings to not start at the scheduled time. This doesn’t give you license to run late to court. It is imperative that you arrive at the time your attorney recommends, even if that means you end up waiting for a while. Both parents and any other witnesses will be sworn in before testifying in court.
What to Expect in a Decision
Courts are generally in favor of awarding joint physical custody. This is because, in most cases, it’s beneficial for the child to have both parents playing an active role in their life and continuing relationships with both parents. However, in the event of domestic violence, family violence, or certain other situations, the judge may instead decide to award one parent sole custody or primary custody depending on the circumstances.
The factors that the court will consider when it comes to determining custody will include the age of the child or children, the physical and mental health of the children, the physical and mental health of both parents, the lifestyle both parents live, and each parent’s ability to provide a suitable stable environment for the child or children. In addition, they may consider the child’s bond with each parent and the willingness of each parent to maintain a strong relationship between the other parent and the children.
While every custody hearing is different, you can generally expect to have to answer a series of personal questions and back up those answers with facts. Your divorce or custody lawyer will be able to help you structure your answers to make the biggest impact in court. Some of the questions you may be asked to answer will include questions about:
- Your custody schedule preference and why it is in the child’s best interest
- Domestic violence
- Alcohol or drug use
- Any plans to relocate with the child
- Your financial status
- How well and how often you communicate with the other parent
- Your personal life
- Your dating life
Child Custody Hearing Tips
Most hearings are open to the public unless both parents and the judge agree to limit attendance. It’s a good idea to observe hearings prior to your hearing, especially those that have the same judge. You may also want to practice answering questions with your attorney or a close friend prior to your hearing.
Dress nicely, similar to the way you would dress if attending a job interview. Don’t bring children to the court room or have them in the same room if you’re participating in a virtual hearing.
Be sure to arrive or log in early. This shows that you are taking the proceedings seriously and shows that you are prepared.
Speak slowly and carefully. Do not ramble. Use notes to help you gather your thoughts. If you don’t understand a question, it is okay to ask for clarification. Don’t assume that the judge knows the details of your case. It is better to say something the judge may already know than to miss the opportunity to provide them with information.
Be honest and show respect. Refer to the judge as “Your Honor” and make sure you do not interrupt anyone while they are speaking.
When the Judge Makes the Custody Decision
If you disagree with the decision made by the judge, then advise your attorney. They can help you appeal the decision and explain the process to you. An appeal does not grant you a new case with a new judge. Instead, an appeals court will review your case to determine if the judge made an error.
How Long Does a Child Custody Case Take in Texas?
The length of your case will depend on a variety of factors including if both parents can agree on custody, visitation, child support, and other parenting issues. In addition, if your case is more than just child custody and is instead a messy divorce, then it may take longer while you and your former spouse sort out any issues during mediation or through a trial.
In most cases, an uncontested child custody case takes a few months or less. However, your attorney will be able to provide a better timeline after discussing the details of your case.
How to get help with your child custody case from a Texas Family Law Attorney
It is strongly suggested that, if you find yourself in a situation regarding child custody, you speak with a reputable law firm to find a great Family Law Attorney that can provide legal representation throughout your case.
The Jimenez Law Firm has helped people with divorce cases, child custody cases, alimony cases, and so much more. We have your best interests at heart and want to ensure you receive a fair settlement. We also are very vested in your child’s best interests and want to help you ensure that they have a bright, healthy future.