By the time of your initial custody hearing (perhaps for Temporary Orders), the Presiding Judge, likely, knows nothing about you and your family other than the information contained in pleadings filed with the court—things like how many children are involved in the case; their ages; the names of their parents; and whether there are any prior Court Orders pertaining to these children. It is our job to provide the court with the information about the story of your family—how you lived together up until this point; your current circumstances; and, your plans for taking care of your children going forward. That way, the court can consider the factors discussed in my earlier piece (linked above) and make a custody decision grounded in fact and law.
Pleadings filed with the court usually contain only general requests for appropriate orders pertaining to conservatorship (or custody), possession and access to the children, the allocation of parental rights and duties, and the award of appropriate support between the parents. Depending on the facts of your case, other requests, such as for injunctions, name changes, and discovery terms, may also be requested. From just reading those pleadings, the Judge cannot determine the specific requests that we are making. And, of course, we do want to be very clear about what we are specifically asking for. So, I prepare a “Summary of Requested Relief,” which I will enter as a trial exhibit at the start of the hearing; and then, I move to publish it to the court. This trial exhibit details the specific rulings that we want the court to make. That way, the Judge can quickly see precisely what we are asking for.
When families are intact—both parents and all children are living together—parents make agreements, or come to understandings, about how they will care for their children. For example, one or both parents: get the children up in the morning; arrange for getting the kids to their school, daycare, or babysitter; make sure that the kids have clean clothes to wear, are dressed appropriately, are clean, and eat breakfast. So, naturally, when parents are making their cases to the court about why they, rather than the other parent, should be primarily responsible for caring for their children going forward, judges want to know what the childcare arrangements have been up until this point—and, how well they have worked. So, these things should be shown to the Judge near the top of the case presentation. In preparing for your child custody hearing, considerable time should be spent with your lawyer discussing this history of the children’s care.
New Factors That Make Change Desirable
If you are not the parent who was primarily responsible for doing those things mentioned above, then for you to win custody, you will need to show the Judge what has happened to make the prior childcare arrangements unworkable or inappropriate now. For example, maybe, one spouse is now interested in a paramour, and so, neglects his or her parenting duties. Or, perhaps, the parent who was primarily responsible for the children’s care now has a substance—alcohol or other drug—problem. Any number of things can happen to impact the ability of a parent to be responsible for children. The judge needs to know about all that apply to your case.
Effective Case Presentation
It is your lawyer’s job to gather and organize the information discussed in this piece, with your help. And then, your lawyer should present that information to the court in a clear and persuasive manner, rather than by merely stating a bunch of facts to the court. This is the art of being a trial lawyer. It usually takes many years and trials to become good at it.
Other Information To Present
Presenting the information discussed in this piece is a good start to presenting your case to the court. But, as you know from reading my earlier piece discussing how child custody cases are won (linked above), there is more information that needs to be presented to the court. We will explore that additional evidence in a later piece that I will write. In the meantime, make sure that you are not hurting your case by doing any of the things that I wrote about here. You are now well on your way to presenting your best case for child custody to the court!