Preparing for a child custody hearing can feel like entering the unknown. Following on from our recent posts on Divorce and Joint Custody we have decided to shed a light on Family Court. For many, court is perceived as a stress-inducing environment with bad memories and negative connotations. Detailed below are explanations to some key areas in order to increase your confidence heading into a child custody case.
Although a child custody case is more ‘informal’ than a criminal case, there is still a structure that the judge will endeavour to adhere to. Both parties will take turns, starting with the applicant and followed by the respondent: the judge will pose various questions throughout. Opening statements are often handled by respective solicitors. Independent witnesses and/or jointly-instructed experts may also present further evidence to the case. Finally, a decision will be heard before leaving the courtroom, should the occasion be the final hearing. A written confirmation will be handed out to the involved at a later date.
9 out of 10 child custody hearings are settled with an agreement between the parents, without having the need for a judge’s decision. Often, these agreements are informed by solicitors and make for a more pleasant interaction between both parties. Solicitors, including our own, can often act as mediators between the two parents and offer important information that can ensure all parties are happy with the outcome and understand the agreement.
Child custody is, usually, either sole or joint. However, there are many discrepancies and variables that can differ case-to-case, which is where complications arise in explanations.
Sole custody is where one parent holds exclusive say over the physical and legal rights of the child. This is a rare occurrence, reserved for severe cases. In almost all sole custody cases, the non-custodial parent is a danger to the child, custodial parent, or the public. However, visitation may be granted even in these extreme circumstances, yet are often supervised.
Joint custody is the term for an outcome that allows both parents to cooperate on the physical and legal decisions of the child/children in question, yet may require a neutral mediator for certain disputes. Time will be split between the two parents and their respective homes on a set schedule, which will rarely be 50/50. However, it is important to remember, Bird’s Nest Custody, which suggests the child/children should remain in their current home, while the parents move in/out around them on a fixed schedule is an increasingly popular solution that may affect the judge’s decision.
In conclusion, child custody cases are often complex and vary from case-to-case. The main objective should be to ensure the child’s best interests are at heart. There should be no cause for concern.