Nothing puts a knot in the pit of your stomach in quite the way the way that going to a custody hearing at family court does. One of the most frequent questions I see is "What should I expect?". Well if you have not been there or your last experience was bad, then you will want to spend some time educating yourself about what happens and how you should both prepare and act.
Unless you are near the end of your court journey and heading to settlement conferences and the like, you will normally have about 15 minutes or less. Excuse me, but that 15 minutes is for your hearing, not the amount of time that you get to speak. By the time the judge speaks, your ex speaks and then you get to have a say you're looking at about 5 minutes.
So your life and your child's fate all comes down to how you spend your 5 minutes. Think about that for just a moment. You have so much to say and if you put yourself in front of a total stranger for 5 minutes, do you think they would see your side? Maybe. And now let that total stranger get 5 minutes with the ex telling them what a horrible person you are. What do you think will happen? Most people are not optimistic at this point. I mean how are you going to possibly explain all of the ugliness that your ex can put out in 5 minutes?
So now that you're convinced no possible good can come from this hearing, let's look at the title again. "What to expect at you first custody hearing". You see the scenario above is what could happen if you do not prepare. But what would happen if we did things a bit differently.
Take the case of a man I just helped prepare for his hearing. He was terrified that his ex was going to leave the state with his child and he would not be able to see her. You see she had remarried and was going to relocate to a military base. This was not a threat, this was a foregone conclusion. He was desperate and knew that arguing was not going to get him what he wanted.
He was right to be scared and absolutely correct that he would not accomplish anything by arguing. So what I did was taught him to focus his 5 minutes on the issue of his case. No matter what the ex accused him of or how she tried to change the conversation, he was to bring it back focus on not moving his daughter out of state.
When the court date came mother made some rare allegations about father and when the judge asked father what he thought of them, father responded, "these issues have no bearing on this motion". The judge agreed and chastised mother. After that it was all downhill for mother and all uphill for father. They were ordered to evaluation and father was awarded temporary personnel in the event that mother should need to move before evaluation was not yet complete. You see, what you need to expect is that the court will hear what you have to say. So choose what you want to talk about and focus your 5 minutes.