You may have read of celebrities who are shining examples of co-parenting. Gossip magazines show them attending school functions side by side, taking the child on vacations together and even continuing to live in the same house for the sake of the child. It is not that way in reality. You are living proof that breaking up a marriage and co-parenting is difficult and painful.
While you know the best solution would be sitting down with your ex-spouse and working out the details of a shared parenting arrangement, it hasn't worked out. Maybe you have suggested it or tried it, but in the end, you both resign to the fact that the court will make the decisions for you. Now you may be feeling anxious about the custody hearing and wondering what to expect.
The purpose of the hearing
A custody hearing is not the time to vent your grievances about your marriage. Unlike dramas on TV, your custody hearing will likely be low-key, private and hopefully respectful. You will present your case to a judge, not a jury, and making a good impression will be important. Your attorney can give you advice on how to behave and may even agree to do some role-playing so you will feel more comfortable.
The goal of the hearing is to determine how much time each of you will spend parenting the children and how much authority you will have over important decisions in your children's lives. Ideally, custody will be as equal as possible, but you may have reasons for requesting sole custody.
Coming to court well prepared
To make your case, your attorney may suggest you bring certain documents with you. Those papers may include:
- A visitation schedule that notes any times your spouse missed his or her appointments, showed up late or otherwise behaved inappropriately
- A phone log of the contact between your children and your ex-spouse
- Proof of child support payments
- Medical records or affidavits from witnesses if you suspect your ex of abuse or neglect
The court is looking for an understanding of which of you will provide the best situation for your children. Having an understanding of California's definition of what is in the best interests of the child will help you present yourself in the best light.
While it is your parenting skills and your devotion to your children's wellbeing that a judge is most concerned about, making a positive impression will be important. Dressing neatly, behaving respectfully and preparing carefully will demonstrate to the court that you take the situation seriously and are willing to make every effort for your children.