What Do Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases?
by Unbundled Legal Help
As a parent, you want to do what’s best for your child. You want your child to thrive in a safe and healthy environment. When you have to share custody of your child, problems may arise that require the help of a child custody lawyer. However, you may be able to handle the bulk of your child custody involvement with the court on your own.
Child custody matters are heard in family court, and states have unique laws for their child custody and family law issues. Some general principles, however, apply. Knowing what to expect for your child custody court appearance is critical to getting the best outcome for your child.
The information below provides a general guideline for what you may experience if you need to create or modify a child custody agreement with the other parent. Each judge is an individual and therefore each judge is unpredictable, so preparation and knowing the ground rules for your court appearance are key.
With that said, while you may be able to handle a custody matter without the help of a child custody lawyer, there are risks involved in deciding to handle the process from start to finish alone. One little mistake can jeopardize your rights and your child’s best interests.
Judges Focus on What’s in Your Child’s Best Interest
For parents, appearing in court can be scary and stressful, especially when they don’t know what to expect in court. Two judges can rule differently on the same matter if they are interpreting the same facts in different ways. Where you live also plays a part in how your child custody case will be decided. Judges must stick to the letter of the law when evaluating your child custody case, but they also have discretion.
Child custody, no matter where you live, is always about what is in the best interest of your child. Judges look closely at certain elements to determine which parent or guardian should have primary custody of their child. Examples of these factors include, but may not be limited to, the following:
- What are the financial resources of each parent?
- Where does each parent or guardian reside?
- Where does the child currently live?
- What is the child’s age?
- Is the child currently living in a safe environment? Are there mental health concerns with either of the parents?
- Does either parent have a drug or alcohol problem?
- Do the parents agree on important aspects of the proposed custody arrangement and parenting plan?
- What are the child’s wishes (if the child is old enough to voice his or her wishes)?
A judge will frame questions based on the facts of your child’s case. Many child custody cases start from a divorce, which requires a more thorough evaluation to determine what is in a child’s best interest.
Judges Support Parents Who Agree on Custody Arrangements
Judges hear many cases and can get impatient if a child custody matter becomes contentious. Parents do better when they each consider what is the other parent’s priority? Will your child benefit by cooperating with the other parent? Do your best to compromise.
Judges recognize when parents come to court with a plan that is mostly complete. There will, of course, be certain matters that require the court’s guidance. Judges do not expect parents to agree on everything, but the best outcome is for both parties to find common ground on an arrangement that is in their child’s best interests.
Judges Put Children First
As your child’s parent or guardian, your wishes and interests matter. However, the judge is looking at the law and applying the law to the facts of your child custody case (although some discretion is allowed). Parents often believe a judge’s ruling is unfair to them. Remember, judges do not always rule the way they would like to rule. They often are required by the law and precedence to order custody arrangements in a way that inconveniences at least one parent.
Get the Most from Your Child Custody Hearing
Child custody hearings bring parents together before a family court judge to present their arguments about their child’s custody situation. The judge reviews the facts and decides what arrangement is best for your child. Judges can have questions for parents. A judge may accept a parent’s proposal to award them custody or a judge may fashion a new plan.
Preparing for your child custody hearing helps your child transition into their new custody arrangement. Steps you can take to prepare for a child custody hearing include, but are not limited to, the following:
Be familiar with the child custody laws of the state where you live;
Bring all relevant documents with you to the hearing, including, among others, a proposed visitation schedule, proof of child support payments (if applicable), and other documents that pertain to your child’s custody and the health and well-being of your child;
Be courteous to the judge, court reporter, bailiffs, the child’s other parent or guardian, and the lawyers and all individuals present at the hearing;
Speak with a child custody lawyer who will prepare you for what to expect at the first hearing (Our unbundled lawyers can help you with this step);
Wear appropriate clothing to demonstrate you are serious about your child’s custody.
Courts are different, and some courts may have a specific dress code and unique local rules that must be followed. You can prepare on your own for a child custody hearing but consulting with a lawyer helps to prepare you to be successful in protecting the interests of your child.
What if You Fear Your Child is in Danger?
If you believe your child may be in danger while in the custody of your spouse, you can file a petition with the court asking for an emergency custody hearing. Because your child’s best interests are at the forefront of all custody evaluations and parenting plans, a judge will act quickly to protect your child. A judge has the power to change your custody arrangement, and then make it either temporary or permanent, based on the best interests of your child.
Given the serious nature of asking for an emergency custody hearing, you can consider working with one of our Unbundled lawyers to ensure you are protecting your rights and the welfare of your child. You do not want to find yourself surprised or blindsided if a judge unexpectedly rules against you in court.
Judges can act if they see evidence that your child is in danger. You can bring photos or videos that confirm child abuse. Also, any evidence of text messages, emails, or other communications (including social media posts) can demonstrate your child’s safety is at risk when outside of your custody. Social media posts are becoming increasingly helpful for judges to evaluate the best parent for deciding on child custody arrangements.
How an Unbundled Lawyer Helps You
Child custody cases can be costly, especially when a lawyer handles a case involving court appearances from start to finish. Child custody lawyers require clients to pay retainers in advance that often exceed $5,000. Additionally, child custody lawyers charge an hourly rate, which can range from $300 to $500.
At Unbundled Legal Services, you can access lawyers and small law firms who work with clients to create arrangements that are best for their client’s financial situation. Unbundled fees for many clients are as low as $500 to $1,500. With Unbundled, you can choose what part of our case your lawyer should handle and what you prefer to manage on your own. For example, you may have no trouble filing forms and paperwork for the court, but you may want help with hearings and negotiations.