When you file for custody, you plan on winning. And that means doing everything in your power to present your side of the story and ensure that the judge fairly considers you for the custodial parent role. For most single parents, physical child custody is the most important issue, towering over child support and legal custody. But where do you start? The following steps will help you get custody of your children:
1. Speak With a Lawyer
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Technically, you do not need to hire a lawyer in order to file for custody. But because winning custody of your kids is probably the most important thing in your life right now, it warrants at least
scheduling a free consultation with a reputable family law attorney in order to learn more about your case and the child custody laws
in your state.
2. Read the Child Custody Laws in Your StateThe best way to get custody is to familiarize yourself with the laws in your state, whether you're working with a lawyer or not. The more you can learn firsthand, the better. So take the time to do your own research. And keep a list of the questions you have as you work through the fine print. If you're working with a lawyer, be sure to ask those questions before your case goes to court.
3. Access Your State's Online Resources
Many states now make their child custody information available online, including the forms necessary to file for custody. If you really want to get custody, visit your state web site
and take advantage of the information and resources available to you.
4. Complete All of the Necessary Forms Before You File for CustodyBe careful to complete each form in full. You don't want to cause unnecessary delays by leaving one or two boxes empty or providing insufficient information.
5. File the Forms at Your Local CourthouseMost states require you to file your child custody forms in person. If you choose to work with a lawyer, he or she will do this for you. If you're doing it on your own, remember that the clerk cannot give you legal advice. He or she can only provide instructions for filing the paperwork.
6. Prepare for Your Court Date
Whether you're working with a lawyer or representing yourself pro se
, you'll need to prepare for court. It's likely that the hearing will last 15-20 minutes, tops, especially if it's the first in a series of child custody hearings. So think carefully about what you really want to say, because you'll only have a few minutes to share your point of view. It helps to write out a list of the issues you want to address, and then narrow it down to the most important topics. Practice what you want to say with a friend, too, so that you can trim down what you plan to say even further.
7. Attend the Child Custody Hearing
This is an obvious step for anyone attempting to get custody, but you'd be surprised how many parents miss the actual court date. Make sure that you arrive early and that you wear appropriate dress for a court appearance
8. Present Your CaseAs I mentioned, you'll probably only have a few minutes to speak with the judge. There's no jury, so you don't have to worry about speaking to a group of people. Try your best to be calm and speak slowly and loudly. Don't allow yourself to be rattled by anything that your ex says, either. Simply present the facts of your case, as you know them.
9. Be PatientThis is the hardest part. Many parents go into court expecting that the judge will issue a decision immediately, and in most cases, it takes several court appearances for the judge to make a final child custody determination.
10. Abide By the Judge's DecisionWhen the judge does eventually make a ruling, abide by that decision. And if you don't get custody, know that you can appeal to the court to reconsider at a later date. In the meantime, do everything that the court recommends, whether that's taking a parenting class, getting a job, or moving into a larger apartment. Do whatever is in your power to meet any demands set by the court, and trust that when your case is revisited in the future, your effort will pay off.