If you are involved in a contested child custody case, one of the most valuable things an attorney will help you do is prepare for a child custody hearing. Here we’ll discuss what to expect from a custody hearing, the best way to conduct yourself, and the documents and paperwork involved.
Child Custody Recommended Counseling
California law requires that separating parents participate in a mediation session before taking their custody matter before a judge. For this mandated mediation session, parents work with a Child Custody Recommended Counselor (CCRC) to create a custody and visitation plan that both parties can agree upon.
Sometimes parties reach an agreement in CCRC. Other times they do not. The CCRC will not determine your case, but they can affect the outcome. Depending on the county, CCRC makes a recommendation that the family court judge hearing your case takes into very serious consideration. With that in mind, prepare for the CCRC in the same manner as a custody hearing.
Wear Proper Attire
Whether you’re in front of the CCRC or in family court, be ready to make good impression on judicial officials. Understand that you have about five minutes to prove your credibility. How you look, what you wear, and how you speak matters immensely.
You would be surprised at how many people walk into a custody hearing ill prepared to make a good impression. Don't come looking like you've been digging in your garden. Don’t show up in jeans with holes, and wearing flip-flops and a t-shirt.
If there’s any question to how you should dress for court, business casual is the rule. If you’re a father, get yourself a nice pair of slacks, a white shirt and a tie. If you have long hair, wear it up. Remove any facial piercings. Cover your tattoos.
Let Your Attorney Do Most of the Talking
There is no better way to draw the ire of a family court judge than to speak over someone else. Unless the judge asks you directly to speak, remain silent and trust your attorney to speak on your behalf. Do not ever speak out of turn.
If Called Upon, Pause and Breathe Before Speaking
Judicial officials occasionally ask parties to speak on their own behalf. When the judge asks you a question, wait a few seconds before you answer. Take a deep breath, and collect your thoughts. Be mindful to speak slowly and deliberately.
Answer the question—and only the question—the court has asked of you. Many times, people get nervous and speak in circles and come off as unprepared or incompetent.
Keep Your Language Child-Focused
The laws around child custody are built upon protecting the best interest of the children involved. This means that every comment made in court or at CCRC should be child-focused.
For example, when speaking about your ex’s substance abuse issues, avoid saying things like, “he’s a total junkie, you should see his filthy apartment—there are needles everywhere!” Instead make this observation child-focused by saying, “I know he loves the children, but he just can’t seem to get past his substance abuse problem.”
Court Documents Involved in Preparing for a Custody Hearing
Preparing court documents that properly adhere to rules of court is critical to achieving the outcome you want. Working with a family law attorney ensures these are prepared and filed correctly, and work towards achieving your desired outcome.
- Request for Hearing (form FL-300) – Use this to schedule a court hearing and ask the court to make new orders or change orders in your case. Can be about child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, property, finances, attorney fees, and other matters.
- Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (form FL-320) – Use this if you have received a Request for Hearing from the other parent. This form tells the court whether you agree or disagree with the requests made in form FL-300.
- Supplemental Declaration (drafted document, (blank form MC-030) – If you have already filed paperwork with the courts and wish to add additional information to be considered at a custody hearing, you must file a Supplemental Declaration at least five court days before the hearing.
- Requesting an evidentiary hearing – There’s a mistaken belief, even among attorneys and judges, that you have to file a request for evidentiary hearing. What the statute provides is that if you intend to call witnesses other than the parties, you are required prior to the hearing to file and serve a witness list with a brief description of the anticipated testimony.
Your Day in Court Might Be Long
Family courts throughout California are overloaded. That means that even if you are first on the calendar, it’s highly likely you will be waiting for the court to deal with what it deems higher priority cases. You just have to be patient.
Attitude Is Everything
This is one of the most stressful and emotionally-charged ordeals that anyone can go though. Keeping your emotions in check during this process is easier said than done for anyone who is preparing for a custody hearing.
It is important to maintain your cool in front of counselors and judicial officials no matter what the other party is saying. Starting drama and hysterics works against your credibility.
Be mindful of sounding over-confident or arrogant in your dialogue. You do not want to look like a narcissist, so check your ego. You could be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but it’s in your best interest to show the court you’re an everyday parent that loves his or her kids.
We always work with clients on image management because it is so is critical when preparing for a custody hearing. A good family law attorney makes sure their clients present the best way possible to court officials in order to attain the child custody order that they desire.
About the author
Chandra Moss is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) with more than 25 years of experience practicing family law in southern California.
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