California Child Custody Hearings: What to Expect

Hearings are opportunities for you to briefly present your argument and evidence to the judge so he or she can determine the next steps in your case. They are like mini trials, without the live witness testimony and the final order at the end.

Some cases have only one hearing, while more complicated cases may have as many as 10.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can present at your court hearing.

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Preparing for your hearing

The impression you give at your hearings could affect your case years down the road. Be sure to prepare thoroughly with your attorney before each hearing. If you're representing yourself, use all the resources at your disposal.

Well in advance, gather evidence that will support your argument, and decide which items you'll focus on in the short time you'll have to speak. Submit copies to the judge beforehand, and bring extra copies with you.

Custody hearings do not usually have witnesses present, but you can submit written testimony from witnesses. Other evidence could include:

Depending on the reason for your hearing, you may also want to present the judge with a suggested parenting plan and schedule, so he or she understands what you believe would be best for your kids. Bring enough copies for you, the other parent and the judge.

As you gather evidence, focus on the issues identified in your original request for a court order. The judge cannot consider other issues.

Scheduling and timing

Usually, the date of your initial hearing will be listed in the "court order" section of your request for orders. Initial hearings typically happen a month or two after orders are requested. Most counties require parents to attend court-provided mediation in that period.

Hearings are scheduled in blocks. Arrive on time, but be prepared to sit through other hearings before you're called.

At the end of your hearing, the judge will tell you the next step for your case. If another hearing is necessary, it will usually be scheduled for 30 to 90 days out.

Procedures

Hearings rarely last more than 30 minutes. They take place in a courtroom open to the public; expect other people, including those waiting for their own hearings, to be watching.

A hearing typically begins with procedural information from the judge. The parent who filed the request for custody orders (or their attorney) has the first opportunity to speak and present evidence, followed by the other parent (or attorney).

Both parents are sworn in as witnesses before the judge asks them questions. The judge has usually read the case file in advance, but you should proceed as though he or she hasn't to ensure no important information is overlooked.

Based on the information shared during a hearing, the judge can do one or more of the following:

  • Order a child custody evaluation, if he/she believes a mental health professional should weigh in
  • Appoint child’s counsel, if the case requires the children involved to have their own attorneys
  • Give temporary custody orders, if the parties are unable to find a parenting arrangement that works for the duration of the custody proceeding
  • Order another hearing or a trial

In counties where mediators give recommendations to the court, the judge will take those recommendations into consideration when deciding the next step after a hearing.

Tips
  • Observe other hearings ahead of time, especially ones with your judge.
  • With an attorney or friend, practice answering questions you're likely to receive from the judge.
  • Dress like you're going to a job interview.
  • Do not bring your children. You can bring an adult for moral support, but they have to remain silent.
  • Arrive early so you can find your courtroom.
  • Keep your calendar open for the entire morning or afternoon. You share your scheduled time with many cases, and you'll likely sit through other hearings before you're called.
  • Don't talk about the case when you're in or near the courthouse. You never know who might overhear.
  • Take your time speaking, but don't ramble. Hearings are often scheduled for 20 minutes each.
  • Look at your notes to help you gather your thoughts.
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand a question, and admit when you don't know an answer.
  • Be honest. You are under oath.
  • Show respect to everyone. Never interrupt, and refer to the judge as "Your Honor."
Using technology for your hearing

The evidence you'll need to prepare for a hearing depends on the topic being considered.

You may want to present a log of interactions with the other parent, a calendar showing when you care for your child, a list of child-related expenses and beyond.

The Custody X Change app lets you create and manage all of these elements in one place. It helps you prepare for every hearing that comes up in your case.

Take advantage of custody technology to get what’s best for your children.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can present at your court hearing.

Make My California Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can present at your court hearing.

Make My Plan