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 10 or more.

Many hearings in custody and divorce cases now take place online via video conference. You may have a say in whether yours happens online or in person.

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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 and the other side beforehand.

If your hearing is in person, bring extra copies of documents with you. If your hearing is virtual, be prepared to explain your evidence without displaying it on screen, in case you don't have the option.

Custody hearings do not usually have witnesses present, but you can submit written testimony, such as character reference letters 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. If your hearing is in person, 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.

If your hearing is happening online, make sure to familiarize yourself with the platform (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams) ahead of time. Even small hiccups can waste precious time and leave you flustered.

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 or log in on time, but be prepared to wait.

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.


Hearings rarely last more than 30 minutes. They take place in a courtroom or on a video conference platform like Zoom. Either way, they're open to the public.

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 they want a mental health professional to weigh in
  • Appoint child's counsel if they believe the child should have a lawyer
  • Give temporary custody orders if the parents can't agree on arrangements for the duration of the custody proceedings
  • Order another hearing or a trial


  • 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.
  • Arrive or log on early in case of issues.
  • Keep your calendar open for the entire morning or afternoon.
  • Don't talk about the case 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:

The Custody X Change online app lets you create all of these 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.

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