How to Prepare for a Child Custody Case

Learn more about how to prepare for a custody case.

There’s no doubt that fighting for custody of a child is a parent’s biggest fear. Whether you’re going through a divorce or separating from your child’s other parent, the process can be daunting.

Whether to hire a lawyer or navigate child custody solo is one of the first considerations for parents who are petitioning the court for child custody. Filing pro se (Latin for “on one’s own behalf”) is the legal term for representing yourself in court without the help of a lawyer. While representing yourself may seem like a cost-saving option, it can be a very risky choice, even if you think your case may not be complicated.

In addition to building a case, keeping track of deadlines, paperwork, and important details, people who represent themselves are responsible for understanding the laws about child custody and the family code in the state of Texas.

Things to keep in mind when deciding if you need an attorney:

  • Your ex has a lawyer: If you already know your ex is working with a child custody attorney, it may be time for you to consider hiring a lawyer as well.
  • The circumstances of your case have changed significantly: Sometimes you start out with a pretty simple case that becomes increasingly complicated as you go along. If the circumstances of your case have changed, it may be time to consult with a lawyer.
  • You’re not familiar with family law: Navigating a child custody case on your own requires a lot of research and planning. Prose litigants must thoroughly understand the laws that apply to their case. In addition, they are singularly responsible for keeping track of paperwork, deadlines, communicating with the court, and going to court.
  • You have a criminal record or CPS has been involved: Certain criminal records can be challenging to a custody case and even more, if it is recent. In addition, if CPS is involved or has been involved in the past, it’s always a good idea to consult with a lawyer about your specific circumstances.

Hire an Attorney

If you’ve tried working with your ex, but it’s impossible for you to agree on a custody arrangement, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney. One of our expert family law attorneys at Manuel Diaz Law Firm, PC will discuss your case with you during your initial consultation and explain the general Texas custody laws and processes. A knowledgeable Texas attorney should be familiar with your court’s rules and procedures and how specific judges may work. Once you retain the attorney, your attorney will guide you through the process in family court.

Filing a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship

The first step is always to file a petition (called SAPCR) with the district court. It’s important to file your request with the proper court, which is usually in the state where your child has lived for at least six months and in the county where you’ve resided for at least 3 months. Your attorney should know the proper jurisdiction and place to file.

What’s in the petition?

The initial custody petition generally must include:

  • Both parents’ identifying information
  • The child or children’s names, social security numbers, and birth dates
  • Information for any previous cases in the family court (divorce, child support)
  • Details on the child’s current custodial arrangements
  • Your proposed custody arrangement
  • Specific details on why your proposed custody arrangement or parenting plan is in the child’s best interest
  • Your request for court intervention.
  • Parents income

Where do I file?

Your attorney will bring all documentation to your local court clerk to file. Courts require petitioners to pay a filing fee, which varies depending on where they live usually anywhere around $300 – $500 in the state of Texas

What happens next?

Once you submit the paperwork (and fee) to the clerk, you will need to complete the “service” of the complaint, which means you must serve (deliver) a copy of the documents to the other parent in the case. A private process server can be hired to find the other parent and deliver the documents, or you can ask your local sheriff to do it for you.

If the opposing party can’t be found, you may need to ask the judge for permission to provide alternate services, like using certified mail or posting a notice in a local newspaper. There may be special rules for parents in the military or your specific jurisdiction so be sure to check the requirements with your attorney before you send the documents.

Once the other parent has been served or notified, your attorney will file a copy of the proof of service with the court, to show that the other parent has been notified. This will start the clock on the waiting period and the time for the other parent to answer.

The court requires you to wait at least 21 days after service before holding a hearing (Although it is possible to hold temporary orders hearing or an emergency hearing before that. If this is needed your attorney will have to request it to the court). The waiting period allows the responding parent time to review the court documents, hire an attorney, and respond (answer) to the petition. It’s critical that the parent served with a custody motion to answer the complaint. If no answer is filed, the other parent could risk the court issuing a default judgment.

What Is a Default Judgment?

If a parent fails to answer a custody complaint within the state’s allotted time frame, the judge may presume the parent agrees with the complaint. As a result, the court may award custody and child support to the parent who filed for custody, but only if the proposed arrangement is in the child’s best interest.

Avoiding the default judgment process is especially important if you believe you’re not the child’s biological parent. In most states, if you were married to the other parent when the child was born, the law presumes you are the parent, and the only way to overcome that presumption is to provide proof to the court that you are not.

If you and the child’s other parent were never married, and you question whether you’re the biological parent, the only way to avoid legal responsibility for a child that’s not yours is to tell the court that you aren’t the parent and request a DNA test in a process called adjudication of paternity.

If an unmarried parent asks for a DNA test, the judge must order it before moving the custody case forward. If you fail to answer the petition for custody, you lose that right. You will have a much more complicated journey to proving that you’re not the child’s biological parent later, which could mean providing financial support for at least 18 years.

If you are the biological parent, and you disagree with any part of the other parent’s proposed parenting plan, you need to answer in order to have an opportunity to be heard and ask for the custody arrangement and child support that you feel is best. If you fail to answer, the judge can grant all of the other parent’s requests without your input.

Types of Custody

The courts recognize the complexities of everyday life and child-rearing. That’s why it’s common for courts to award sole and mixed parental designations. Texas child custody laws recognize:

  • Joint Legal and Physical Custody: Many times, the court will award shared legal and physical custody so that both parents have relatively equal authority in a child’s life. This status allows both to make key decisions and split time.
  • Joint Legal and Sole Physical Custody: The most common arrangement is for courts to award physical placement to one parent and have the other enjoy reasonable visitation rights. The court may also split the right to make decisions between both parents.
  • Sole Legal and Sole Physical Custody: In this instance, one parent enjoys both physical placement and all decision-making powers. Generally, the other parent retains visitation. However, in cases where the non-custodial parent is deemed unfit or dangerous in some way, they may be vacated.
  • Split Custody: In some cases, the court will divide the amount of time each child spends separately at each parent’s home. If this is the situation you are in, our expert Texas Custody Attorney can help if you are unsure how to approach this option.

Preparing for Child Custody Court

When you enter a court to argue for child custody, it’s important to be as prepared as possible. Preparation means having your arguments lined up, but it also means bringing along the right people and dressing appropriately. Here are four key things to have lined up:

  • Answers to possible questions: If you have a full-time job and a young child, for example, it’s likely the judge will ask, “Where will your child go after school?” If you’re living in a one-bedroom apartment, the judge will want to know where your child will sleep. Your attorney will help you navigate through these specific questions to make sure you don’t say anything that may not be in your best interest.
  • Important people: This might include babysitters or teachers who can accurately and effectively support your claims of being a top-notch parent.
  • Your arguments: Your attorney will help you with this; it’s critical that you have an experienced attorney helping you with such important questions as, “Do I have a suitable living arrangement for my child?” and “Can I provide the emotional support my child needs?”
  • Your outfit: Very formal and conservative in your clothing, hairstyle, and makeup that sends the message “I’m a responsible adult.”

Be Ready for Multiple Testimonies

During a child custody proceeding, the following parties will speak:

  • Parents
  • Witnesses (including workers, school officials, etc.)
  • Child (if the child is of an age to make an informed decision)

The parties will testify about their experiences with the child and the parents. The parties may also form an opinion on which parent may be better suited to serve as the primary parent to the child.

Expect a Decision

After both parties have presented their side in defense of a particular custody arrangement, a judge will render his/her decision. When reaching a determination for child custody, a judge will make a decision based on the child’s best interests.

The Judge’s Decision Will Include

  • A visitation schedule, including holidays and weekends, when the non-custodial parent is entitled to visitation
  • Which parent will be considered the custodial parent
  • A child support arrangement

If you would like more information about what to expect during a child custody hearing contact Manuel Diaz Law Firm, PC to speak to one of our expert family law attorneys to prepare for your child custody case. The best thing for parents to do is to prepare in advance. By preparing, a parent will be in the best position to win their child custody case. Call us today at 855-900-3429 for a free case evaluation.

*The information on this website is for advertisement and general information purposes only.
Nothing on this site should be considered as legal advice for any individual case or situation.