What to bring to court when you are trying to get custody

Stephanie Cortes
The legal term “child custody” is used to describe the rights and responsibilities of each parent or guardian when it comes to taking care of their child or children.

A custody agreement can be made with or without a court order.

In family court, parents who are unable to agree on an arrangement, will generally be ordered by the judge to attend a mediation session with a mediator to help create an enforceable plan.

If they still cannot agree, they will attend a hearing to meet with the judge who will determine what is in the “
best interest of the child(ren)”. 

After a judge makes a custody or visitation order, either party may request to change the order. The parent(s) requesting the modification will have to prove to the judge that there has been a “significant change in circumstance”. 

The two types of child custody are: 
  1. Legal custody indicates which parent(s) will make important decisions for the children such as education, medical, religion,  etc.’
  2. Physical custody indicates who the children will live with for majority of the time.

Custody options include:
  • Joint - both parents share the legal responsibilities of decision making OR physical parenting time
  • Sole or Primary - one parent has the right to make important legal decisions OR the child(ren) spends majority of the time living with 1 parent and visitation time with the other.
If you are seeking any type of custody order, an attorney can help you decide what the best options are, help you gather evidence, file paperwork, prepare documents for court, and argue on your behalf in court.

However, if you decide to do it on your own, here is what you should bring to the hearing:
  • A copy of the court documents for divorce or paternity case or, request for order (RFO) modification filed
  • A copy of an previous child custody and visitation orders made
  • A copy of any Restraining Orders issued 
  • A copy of the Proof of Service document, if requisition for modification in orders
  • Phone call logs or messaging between parties
  • Visitation schedule logs
  • Police reports
  • Proof or pictures of any abuse
  • Criminal records against the other party
  • Witnesses to testify on your behalf
  • Financial information
  • Children(s) records such as school records, medical reports, or records of bad behavior
  • Proof of “change of circumstance” and copy of any written declarations submitted to court indicating change
  • Notes to yourself that may help you explain your claims to the judge such as child’s well being
  • Anything else that supports your claims.

What if I cannot attend an upcoming custody order hearing? 

Both parties are required to attend the hearing to represent themselves. If a party fails to show, the court may still grant orders without them.

If you are unable to attend the hearing, you may ask the court if you can attend via phone or request a continuance for a future date.

Issues of custody are complicated and stressful. It's definitely a situation in which a lawyer can help. Remember that our rates start at $249, and we have interest free payment plans available. 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

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