Court hearings can be quite intimidating, particularly when you are not sure what to expect and when the custody of your child is at stake. At a child custody hearing, a judge will decide who the child primarily lives with, who makes the child’s major life decisions about health, religion, and education, the visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent, and grandparent visitation.
The experienced child custody attorneys at The Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell can help you with your child custody case in court. Here are a few important things to know about child custody hearings.
1. Preparing for the hearing
Before your hearing, you must create a parenting plan. If you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan, then you each should submit separate plans. After deliberation of both submitted plans, the judge will enter a final parenting plan order.
A parenting plan should outline a parenting schedule for each day of the year, how the child will spend holidays and vacations, transportation arrangements, drop-off points, and how the parent plans on contacting the child while in the other parent’s care.
One more way you can prepare for the hearing is to dress professionally. You do not need to wear a suit, but try to dress business-casual. It lets the judge know that you are taking this seriously and have respect for the court.
2. Duration of hearing
Custody hearings tend to be very short. Most hearings will take less than two hours. The length of the hearing will depend on how many issues there are in your case. If you only have one small issue to work out, the hearing could be as quick as 20 minutes. Also, it is possible that there will be other people in the courtroom waiting for their hearings. This could push back your hearing and it may not start on time.
3. What will happen at the hearing?
At the initial custody hearing, both parents will have to testify in front of the judge about their custody proposals. The judge may ask you specific questions to help better her understanding of your case, and/or to help her decide the best interests of your child. It is important that you only answer the question the judge asks you. It is against court etiquette to answer her question with an unrelated matter.
4. Judge’s decision and applicable law
The judge’s legal analysis is to decide custody based on your child’s best interests. “Best interest” is a very specific legal standard that the judge must use as a guideline in determining custody. It also means that most of the judge’s questions will be framed around those legal factors that determine a child’s best interest. Child custody best interest factors include, but are not limited to:
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- The relationship the child has with siblings (including step or half siblings),
- The capacity of parent to give the child affection and day to day care,
- Each parent’s familiarity of child’s needs,
- The home environment of each parent,
- The importance of continuity in the child’s life,
- The stability of each parent,
- The mental and physical health of each parent,
- Each parent’s employment schedule,
- and more.
After hearing both parents’ sides, the judge must decide on a visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent and grandparents, physical custody, and legal custody. Physical custody is who the child primarily lives with. Legal custody is the right to make major life decisions for the child, such as decisions regarding the child’s health, religion, and education. Both physical and legal custody can be either shared (a.k.a. joint) or sole.
The Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell has decades of experience in family law and has worked extensively on custody and visitation cases. We vow to keep the welfare of the child at the heart of every decision we make and will guide each client toward a ruling that is beneficial for them and their family. If you’re looking for experienced and compassionate legal representation in Georgia, contact the Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell today for a free consultation at 770-479-0248.