Georgia Child Custody Trials
If you aren't able to settle with the other parent, your case will go to trial.
A trial (also called a final hearing) gives you the opportunity to present your full argument, with evidence, to the judge or jury.
Note that scheduling and procedures may vary by case, county and judge.
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Preparing for trial
It's critical that you're well prepared for your trial. If you have an attorney, they'll help you get ready. If you're representing yourself, prepare as though you were an attorney.
- Live witness testimony
- Reports from an evaluator or a guardian ad litem
- Criminal records
- Active orders against the other party
- Logs of visits and phone calls with the children or other parent
- Any relevant photos, videos and documents
- Character reference letters
If you'll call witnesses, you or your attorney should meet with them beforehand to ensure they're prepared.
Prepare questions to ask the other parent and their witnesses when they take the stand. Think of what information they can provide to help your case or corroborate claims you have against them.
In the lead-up to trial, avoid behaviors that could harm your case for custody, such as bad-mouthing the other parent on social media.
Scheduling and timing
At any point during the court process, a parent can request to proceed to trial.
Otherwise, the court typically earmarks a case for trial four to six months after the initial filing. Several weeks may pass between the time your case gets scheduled for trial and the day trial begins.
Most trials require a single day of testimony. If yours requires multiple sessions, they likely won't fall on back-to-back days. Court appearances in Fulton County have particularly long interims because only a handful of judges there hear family law cases.
Court calendars are busy, so trial dates are subject to change.
People at trial
Trials are open to the public, except in rare cases, such as when a high-profile individual is involved.
Parents and their lawyers sit before the judge. Family, friends and the public sit behind them in the gallery. Witnesses can join the gallery after they testify.
If a parent requests a jury (more information below) to decide financial aspects of divorce, the 12 jurors sit at the front of the room.
Children are not allowed in the courtroom, so plan child care ahead of time.
In a trial, lawyers give statements, talk to the judge, present evidence and question witnesses (including both parents). Parents without lawyers do this all on their own.
Everyone who testifies is sworn in by the bailiff before taking the witness stand. If you lie during testimony, you could be ordered to pay the other parent's legal fees or charged with perjury, which is a crime.
The person who opened the case, the plaintiff, presents their case first. They may begin with an opening statement. Then they provide testimony from the stand (independently or through their attorney's questioning).
Next, the plaintiff questions their witnesses through a process called direct examination. They may present other evidence to support their claims.
The defendant has the right to question the same witnesses, including the plaintiff, through cross-examination. They'll try to poke holes in the plaintiff's arguments or claims.
Some judges allow the plaintiff to question the same witnesses again. Through this re-cross examination, the plaintiff seeks to clarify anything muddied by cross-examination.
After the plaintiff concludes, the defendant gets the floor and starts the above process again, beginning with the optional opening statement.
In some cases, the children give private testimony in the judge's chambers on a nontrial day by request of the judge, the guardian ad litem or a parent.
To conclude trial, each party provides closing statements summarizing their arguments.
The judge may announce the ruling immediately or call for a recess, which can last hours or weeks. During a recess, parents must follow any temporary orders in the case.
In Georgia, a divorcing parent can request a jury trial to decide financial matters like property division, alimony and child support.
Jury trials are rare. They can cost thousands more than bench trials (in which a judge makes all decisions) because of the extra time lawyers spend in preparations and jury selection. They also take longer to get on the court calendar since they may require back-to-back days.
A jury can benefit a parent whose spouse has been unfaithful or behaved questionably, as jurors tend to be more sympathetic to "moral" issues than judges. And sometimes lawyers advise clients to request a jury trial because it makes the other parent more likely to settle.
Proceedings for jury trials are the same as above, except that it's a jury that deliberates in private before announcing a decision. The court may bifurcate proceedings, meaning it holds a bench trial for custody first, then a jury trial for financial issues.
- Dress like you're going to a job interview.
- Do not bring your children.
- Arrive early.
- Treat everyone respectfully, including court employees and the other parent.
- Address the judge as "Your Honor" and lawyers as "Attorney [Last Name]," "sir" or "ma'am."
- Only speak when asked to.
- Know your children's teachers, interests and other information to show your involvement in their lives.
- Tell the truth and encourage your witnesses to do the same. Perjury, or lying under oath, is a criminal offense.
- Do not provide more information than necessary.
- Ask for clarification if you don't understand a question.
- Admit when you don't know an answer.
- Avoid getting overly emotional during testimony or when the judge reveals the ruling.
Going to trial over child custody requires serious organization.
You'll need to present evidence, which could range from messages with the other parent to a calendar showing when you care for your child. You should also present a proposed parenting plan and schedule to the court.
The Custody X Change app lets you create and manage all of these elements in one place.
Take advantage of our technology to get what's best for your children.