Child Custody Hearing – What to Expect
Child custody is one of the most challenging problems for a couple facing divorce. Having a custody hearing is common and often necessary for things to move forward.
Nevada requires all couples with children going through a divorce to attend a Family Mediation Center meeting. This step is mandatory. A mediator will work with the couple to see if they can agree on custody issues.
There are two types of custody, physical custody, and legal custody. When a parent is given the rights and responsibilities to make decisions for their child, it is legal custody. The types of decisions include discipline, education, medical care, and religion. Many custody disputes are over physical custody, which determines which parent the child will physically reside.
Courts are in favor of awarding physical custody to both parents, which is known as joint custody. Primary custody is where one parent has custody of the child the majority of the time.
A judge considers many factors in making a decision regarding child custody. In a custody dispute, the court will make this determination based on the best interest of the child.
While every case is different, the factors the court considers may include elements such as:
- Child’s age and physical and mental health
- Mental and physical health of both parents
- Lifestyle of both parents
- Each parent’s ability to offer a stable environment for the child
The court may also consider the emotional bond between the child and both parents as well as the willingness and ability of each parent to maintain a good relationship between the other parent and the child.
Although this may appear straightforward, the judge will also rely on the testimony of others such as neighbors and family members, a child psychologist, a representative from Child Protective Services, or other witnesses that can testify to the issues being discussed. Depending on the age of the child, the court may also consider their wishes.
Having an experienced divorce lawyer on your side can help the judge to see your evidence as more favorable than the other parent.
Every custody hearing is different. Expect to field extremely personal questions. Then back up those questions with verifiable facts.
This is where a divorce lawyer will help your case. He or she has done this before and can help coach you on how to structure your answers.
Expect questions on the following topics:
- Your preference on custody schedule (and why it’s in the child’s best interest)
- Drug and alcohol use
- Domestic Violence
- Plans to relocate with the child
- Financial status
- Quality, frequency, and outcome of communication with the other parent
- Current custody arrangements, official or unofficial
- Your personal life and any significant others
Trashing the other parent (no matter how tempting) makes you look bad to the judge. Your divorce lawyer is the best person to explain exactly how to tactfully address any legally valid shortcomings of the other parent. Vent your grievances to a counselor or trusted friend. Work with your divorce lawyer to offer only facts to the judge.
Brush up on your courtroom etiquette. Afterall, in the judge’s eyes if you cannot bring yourself to behave well in a courtroom when fighting for something important to you, how will you teach your child to act when they grow up? Don’t make the judge wonder what sort of inappropriate behavior your child will pick up from you.
Dress for the courtroom. If you don’t own a blazer, get one. Take out the fun piercings. Cover your tattoos as best you can.
You might not personally agree with this manner of dress, but this is not a situation where you want to take any chances with first impressions.
Women’s skirts should reach at least the knee, and shirts should have at least half-length sleeves. No jeans, conservative shoes (no 6-inch stilettos), modest, classic styles.
Men should wear slacks and a dress shirt. Shine your shoes. Bring an extra tie, just in case.
Suits are acceptable for both men and women. Remember, dressing up shows respect for the court. Respect for the court implies respect for the judge. You want the person making these decisions to like you, even if that legally doesn’t play into the case.
If one parent receives primary physical custody, the other parent normally receives visitation rights. However, courts prefer attorneys and parents work together to secure a fair visitation schedule. The court will determine the timing if necessary.
If you strongly disagree with the decision, you can appeal it. You can only appeal Final Divorce Orders. (There is very little you can do about temporary custody orders without showing the child is in immediate danger.)
Keep in mind appealing the judge’s decision will not grant you a new case with a new judge. The appeals court will review the findings of your case only to see if the judge made a legal error.
That is part of the reason why getting a child custody attorney can help your case. They have experience with what will help influence the judge’s decision.