In the realm of family law, one of the most difficult aspects an attorney will deal with is child custody hearings. While the courts in theory want what is best for the child, determining that is not always cut and dried. Even in situations where there are signs of abuse, completely severing ties between a parent and a child is not something that the courts will do lightly. Knowing what to do to prepare yourself for this hearing long before it occurs will better your chances of getting a good ruling.
The first thing you need to do is contract with an experienced family law attorney. This will ensure that you do not overlook any important legal matters in the process that could turn the courts against you on a technicality. Once you have an attorney on your side, it is time to get organized.
The courts will want to see that you value the time you have available with your children. Keep logs of all time spent with your child. If you do not currently have primary custody, log all of your visitation times. If you do have primary custody, track the amount of time that the other parent spends with the children, as well as special activities you do with them. This often clearly shows the courts which parent places his or her priorities with the children. In some cases it will be both, while in others one parent will clearly shine in this regard. If you do not have custody and your ex does not allow you to see the children when you request it, make sure you log this information as well. Family law can get complicated, but having accurate records will help.
One thing that family law courts want to see is that you are financially capable of taking care of your children's needs. Have the paperwork ready that shows your savings accounts, income, and any benefits you have. If you are looking for work, which may be the case if you were a stay-at-home parent before the divorce, you need to be able to show that you have a plan to obtain work, or that you have a source of income outside of a salary that will allow you to take care of your children.
If you feel that you are in a good spot to obtain custody, you also need to estimate how much it costs to care for your children. Use your records to show all of the costs associated with childcare, including gasoline costs, clothing, and even day care expenses. The courts will use this data to determine how much child support your ex will have to pay.
Finally, talk to your child about the family law process. Remember to make it as positive as possible for them. While you are trying to prove, in a way, that you are the "best" parent, you must not try to skew the child's view of his or her other parent. Leave the battle in the courtroom, not the home. If things get particularly difficult in the custody battle, consider having an objective third party counselor talk to your child, such as a school counselor or a church minister. Your goal is to have the best possible outcome for your child, so keep that in mind throughout the process.