When parents divorce, there are often contentious debates over the various settlement terms. Of all the many issues, child custody is among the most serious. There are two types of custody, including legal and physical custody. Generally, both parents have legal custody, which is the right to make decisions on behalf of the child. Custody is often shared with the child residing primarily with one parent while the other has regular visitation.
If parents do not agree to the custody arrangements or want to make changes later, a custody hearing is necessary. It is also necessary when unmarried parents want to share custody.
A custody hearing or trial allows both parents to provide the court with information so the judge can make a decision. Custody matters are often complex, and it is helpful to talk to a reputable family law attorney as soon as possible.
Know the Custody Laws
It is a good idea to prepare for any type of court proceeding by first learning the laws and how they apply to your particular case. In child custody cases in Wisconsin, the law generally allows for both parents to share custody unless one parent is deemed unfit or is unable to care for a child. The mother is not presumed to be the preferred custodial parent. The mother has sole legal custody when a child is born to unmarried parents. Court action may be required to establish paternity and create an order for custody, visitation, and child support. Child custody laws can be complicated, and each case is different.
When you prepare for a custody hearing, you will need to gather all documents that you need to prove your position. It will not be enough to just make a statement unless you can back it up with information. The types of documentation you will need varies based on the details of your case. Some of the items you may need include visitation information, phone logs, support payment details, and more. It can take some time to obtain some of the items you need, so it is best to make a list when you speak with your attorney.
Talk to Witnesses
If there are any witnesses that you want the court to hear, you should discuss the matter with them ahead of time. Make sure that you help prepare them for what to expect in court. Sometimes an expert witness is needed to testify. For example, a therapist or doctor who treats your child may need to provide information that impacts the case. Your attorney will brief the witnesses so they understand their role in the proceeding. In some cases, the court will accept notarized statements or reports.
During a hearing as important as child custody, the judge will need to get testimony from both parents under oath. In general, the judge will want to know why you want custody or why you do not want the other parent to have custody. Prepare for the hearing by carefully considering your answers to the most common questions that a judge is likely to ask. On the day of the hearing, wear appropriate clothing, ensure you are well-groomed, arrive on time, and understand how you must act in court.
Know What is in Your Child’s Best Interest
Keep in mind that Wisconsin courts will always act in the best interest of the child. Therefore, you will want to ensure that your case includes details regarding why your request is best for your child. Additionally, the court may consider the wishes of the child, particularly when children are teenagers. The court does not have to speak directly to the child as long as you can provide reliable information about what the child wants. The child does not have to appear in person but instead can offer their wishes through a third party such as a guardian ad-litem or therapist.
Seek Legal Guidance
Legal matters such as child custody hearings can be complex, and since there is so much at stake, you will want to seek legal assistance from a knowledgeable attorney. A skilled family law attorney knows the laws and has experience assisting parents in providing the best testimony and case possible. To learn more about preparing for a child custody trial, contact our legal team at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd at (608) 784-8310 or online.