What Happens at The First Custody Hearing?
When separating parents can’t agree on a custody arrangement, it can lead to high-conflict situations that may negatively impact the lives of any children involved. Custody disputes don’t have to end this way. At Skillern Firm, our priority is to prevent this from happening. Using our skills in mediation and negotiation we will create a safe space for you and your ex-spouse to communicate so that you can arrive at a decision that is best for the children.
Where this is not possible, we are also prepared to fight for our clients in court and guide them through the process of securing a positive future that works for them. Child custody hearings can feel overwhelming, especially if you have never set foot in a courtroom before. But at Skillern Firm, we will guide you through every step and will do everything possible to protect your interests and those of your children. With over 50 years of combined experience and a personalized approach to the attorney-client relationship, we are prepared to handle even the most complex cases.
Call our law firm today at (832) 210-2669.
What is a Child Custody Hearing?
When parents decide to divorce, it is common for them both to believe that they should have primary custody of the child. If they cannot agree, then the court may be required to step in and decide on their behalf. The judge will make a decision based on what is in the best interests of the child. However, if they do step in, they may enforce a legally binding parenting plan that might be different from what you wanted. To avoid this, it is better to agree on a parenting plan with the help of an attorney, which can then be submitted to the court for approval. Of course, this is not always possible, and if there have been any instances of abuse or other behaviors that could negatively affect your child’s wellbeing, then you may have no choice but to pursue a hearing.
What Happens at The First Custody Hearing?
Attending a hearing is a frightening prospect for most people, so it’s helpful to know what to expect.
- Arrive Early – You should arrive at least 30 minutes before your child custody hearing in order to check in with the court and meet with your attorney.
- Wait For Your Case To Be Heard – The time you are assigned may not be adhered to depending on how the court is running that day. While you should always be early, you should also expect that you may have to wait. If you have work, you will want to ensure that you have plenty of time.
- Short Time Frame – Judges hear numerous cases every day, therefore your case probably won’t last very long. You should work with your attorney to make sure that you put forward your best possible case in the short time you have.
- Small Court Room – Unlike a criminal case, family law cases tend to be heard in a small and intimate setting and very few people will be in the room.
- Multiple Testimonies – Multiple people can speak at a child custody hearing including both parents, the child (if aged 12 or over), and witnesses.
- Your Attorney May Speak With the Judge Without You Present –The judge may ask to see the attorneys in their chambers before a child custody case is heard. This gives the judge the chance to briefly hear about any issues and ask questions about the case.
- You May Not Talk With The Judge – The judge will typically address lawyers and let them make statements, answer questions, and provide evidence. You may not have a chance to speak to them. However, they may directly ask you some questions, so it is good to be prepared. If you have any questions, you should whisper them to your attorney or slip them a note so that they can address your concern.
- You Have To Deal With Your Ex-Spouse – The other parent will also be at the hearing, which can be difficult for some people. However, it is important that both are present and behave professionally. You should let your attorney know if you feel uncomfortable around the other parent so that they can take steps to minimize your stress.
- Furthur Court Dates – Your child custody case may not be resolved in the first hearing, instead, you may be given a second date for a future hearing. Another hearing may not be available for a month or more. It will need to be cleared on everyone’s calendars so you could wait some time for a resolution.
Preparing for Child Custody Court Hearing
When you attend court for a child custody hearing, you will want to be as prepared as possible. That means knowing what your arguments are, and having the evidence ready. Here are five key tips to get you started:
- Dress Professionally: How you come across can have a big impact. So dress in a formal and conservative way that sends a clear message that you are a responsible adult.
- Know Your Arguments: Your attorney will help you form your arguments, such as your living environment and ability to provide support for your child’s needs.
- Have Arrangements in Place: If you work or attend school, then you should already know what your childcare arrangement will be. You should also have arrangements for things like taking your children to school.
- Important Witnesses: It may be necessary to have witnesses on standby who can testify for your character. It could include teachers or babysitters who can support your claims that you are a good parent.
- Answers to Possible Questions: If you have a full-time job and a young child, for example, it’s likely the judge will ask, “Where will your child go after school?” If you’re living in a one-bedroom apartment, the judge will want to know where your child will sleep.
Questions To Expect at a Child Custody Hearing
Every child custody hearing is unique, and there will be personalized questions. An attorney can help you prepare by working out what those questions could be and how you can answer them. You may get questions regarding things such as:
- Financial status.
- Your preference on a visitation schedule and why it is in the child’s best interests.
- Your plans for childcare when you can not take care of the child.
- How involved you have been in the child’s life.
- Your lifestyle.
- Plans to relocate with the child.
- Your child’s relationship with your extended family.
- Your history of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Instances of domestic violence.
- Quality and frequency of your communication with the other parent.
- Any other matters of significance.
Different Types of Child Custody Arrangements in Texas
In Texas, there are two primary types of legal custody. As both parents have legal rights to their children, joint custody is the most common arrangement. It is generally believed that it is in the child’s best interests to have both parents in their life unless there is a reason not to. However, joint custody does not always equate to a 50/50 split.
In joint custody arrangements, parents share rights and responsibilities towards the child. There will be a parenting plan put in place which details the time spent with each parent. Usually, one parent will have primary custody and the child’s primary residence will be with them, and the other parent will have visitation rights. A common schedule is every other weekend and one weekday/night.
Other times, one parent may be granted sole custody. They will have the right to make all important decisions in the child’s life. The other parent may still be awarded some visitation rights, but depending on the circumstances, it may be supervised. Sole custody is usually only awarded if one parent has issues that could be potentially damaging to the child’s well-being, such as a history of substance abuse, or domestic violence. If you believe that you should be awarded sole custody, or if your partner is fighting for sole custody, then it is essential that you have support from an experienced child custody attorney who can help you evidence your claims.
The Judge’s Decision
Once a decision has been made by the judge, it will include whether sole or joint custody is granted. It will also cover who the primary custodian will be, and a visitation schedule. The judge will consider many factors, but they will always determine a custody arrangement based on what is in the best interests of the child.
They may consider things such as:
- The child’s relationship with each parent.
- How involved each spouse has been in the child’s life.
- The ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs now and in the future.
- The lifestyle of both parents.
- The child’s relationship with extended family members.
- Mental and physical health of both parents.
- Each parent’s ability to offer a safe and stable environment for the child.
- The willingness of each parent to facilitate visitation for the other.
- The child wishes (if they are 12 and over).
The judge will rely on the testimony of people such as family members, neighbors, a representative from Child Protective Services, a child psychologist, or other witnesses that can testify about the issues being discussed.
An Amicus Attorney May Be Appointed
Sometimes the judge may decide that it is in the best interests of the child to have an Amicus Attorney appointed. This is a person appointed by the court to represent the child. They will not be appointed in every hearing, but if the judge thinks that the case may reach trial, then they will usually appoint one. They will investigate, meet with the children and the parents, and give an opinion on what they believe is in the best interests of the child.
Courtroom Etiquette and Advice
It is important to act appropriately in court. The judge will want to see that you are a positive influence on your child, and they will look for any negative behavior your child could learn from you.
Avoid Speaking Badly About The Other Parent
If you are dealing with a high-conflict divorce, it might be tempting to speak badly about the other parent. However, this is not advisable and it will make you look bad to the judge. The judge will want to see that you are trying to make things work and are willing to cooperate.Your attorney will be able to tactfully address your ex-spouse’s shortcomings using facts and will provide evidence for all of your claims. Instead of letting your emotions get the better of you while you are in the courtroom, vent to a counselor or trusted friend.
How To Dress?
How you dress is important. While you may not agree that someone should have to dress a certain way to be taken seriously, in this situation, it is essential that you make a good first impression. Dressing up displays respect for the court and the judge. You want the people making the decisions to like you, even if it doesn’t have a legal influence. Here are some tips:
- Wear a blazer.
- Cover tattoos.
- Remove piercings.
- Women’s skirts should reach at least the knee.
- Shirts should be at least half-sleeved.
- No jeans.
- Conservative shoes and no trainers or large high heels.
Here are some additional, actionable steps that will help you to win the judge’s favor. The most important thing is to try and relax and act naturally. We understand it can be a scary experience to stand in front of a judge, but your attorney will help you prepare.
- Arrive early and prepared.
- No eating or chewing gum.
- Make your presence known to an usher when you arrive and then sit quietly until your case is called.
- Turn off your mobile phone before you enter the courtroom.
- Enter the courtroom when directed, and if the judge is present, bow to them before you sit down.
- Keep quiet while you wait and sit up with good posture.
- Address the judge as ‘Your Honor’.
- Speak only when asked.
- Speak in formal English slowly and clearly.
- Address the judge when you do speak.
- Stick to the facts and speak directly.
- Answer any questions with a short sentence, or a yes or no before expanding if you choose to.
- Never argue with the judge or show frustration.
- If the judge asks a question, stop immediately and do not interrupt.
- Avoid sarcasm or humor.
- Be respectful and professional when addressing your opponent’s argument.
After the Judge Makes the Custody Decision
The judge may assign roles such as who has primary physical custody and allow parents and their attorneys to set a visitation schedule. If you disagree with the decision, then it is possible to appeal it. You can only appeal Final Divorce Orders and not Temporary Orders unless the child is in immediate danger. Appealing a decision will not give you a new hearing with a new judge. The appeal court will only review the decision to determine if the judge could have made an error. An attorney can help you determine whether appealing is a viable option for you.
Temporary Custody Orders
Sometimes child custody cases can take a long time to finalize. In the meantime, parents often need guidance on child custody and visitation. Therefore, temporary orders are often put in place until the divorce is final. If you can’t agree on temporary custody, then there will be a temporary custody hearing. Although the decisions made will not be permanent, it is important to take them seriously. Child custody cases can take up to two years to settle. The judge may look to create as little disruption to the child’s life as possible, therefore, the parent who wins temporary custody may end up with primary custody in the long run. Therefore, it is important to speak to a divorce attorney as soon as possible, especially in a contested divorce. In fact, you may wish to speak to an attorney before you even file for divorce so that you can utilize a sound strategy from the beginning. However, it is never too late to seek help.
Contact Skillern Firm
At Skillern Firm, we understand how emotionally challenging child custody matters are. We understand that both parents want what’s in the best interests of the child, and we share that value. We will work tirelessly to support our clients and secure the best possible outcome. We will strive to use mediation and negotiation wherever possible, and if it isn’t, we are prepared to stand for you in court. A custody decree is legally binding, so it is essential to fight for a child custody arrangement that works for you and your children. We can guide you through all family law matters and help ensure a bright future for you and your family.
Contact us today at (832) 210-2669 to speak with a child custody attorney in Texas who has the skill, experience, and willingness to go above and beyond for your case.