North Carolina Child Custody Hearings: How to Prepare

In a hearing, you briefly present an argument to the judge so he or she can determine the next steps in your case.

Hearings differ from trials in that they do not result in permanent orders (except settlement hearings).

Some parents settle before ever having a hearing, while others have several hearings.

Note that certain procedures, including scheduling, may vary by county.

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Preparing for your hearings

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 one.

If you're representing yourself, prepare like a lawyer would. Review the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, and use other custody resources at your disposal. You can even observe hearings.

Hearings often focus on one issue, so tailor your arguments accordingly. For example, if you're discussing a temporary visitation schedule, bring a visual custody calendar so the judge can quickly see what you believe is best for your child.


When you file a motion that requires a hearing or when a judge otherwise orders a hearing, the court clerk will help you with scheduling.

While some counties require the same judge to preside over your entire case, most will schedule your hearing with any available family court judge.

Courts often hold initial hearings six to eight weeks into a case to give parents time to attend mediation, unless the hearing is for emergency matters.

Hearings may be delayed if a parent isn't notified properly, if a parent asks for a continuance or if the court has a scheduling conflict.

Do not miss a hearing you've been ordered to attend. Not only does it make the judge more likely to rule against you, it could also result in contempt of court charges.


Hearings usually last 30 to 60 minutes. They take place in a courtroom open to the public, so expect other people, including those waiting for their own hearings, to watch.

A hearing typically begins with procedural information from the judge. Both parents are sworn in as witnesses before the judge asks them questions. The parent who filed the motion (or their attorney) has the first opportunity to speak and present evidence, followed by the other parent (or attorney).

The judge has usually read the case file in advance, but you should proceed as though they haven't to ensure no important information is overlooked.

The judge will only hear information relevant to the hearing's topic.

Based on the information shared during a hearing, the judge can take many steps, including:

Special hearings

If you have evidence that your child faces possible abduction or immediate danger, you can request an expedited hearing to get an emergency order. Usually only the parent who made the request attends, making it an "ex parte" hearing. If the judge issues the order, the other parent can refute your claims in a future hearing.

If you've drafted a consent order with the other parent, inform the court clerk when you file for custody. The clerk will schedule a settlement hearing, where the judge will sign your order, as long as it doesn't jeopardize your child's best interests.


  • Dress like you're going to a job interview.
  • Do not bring your children. You can bring an adult for moral support, but they must remain silent.
  • Treat all court employees and the other party with respect.
  • Don't talk about the case in or near the courthouse. You never know who might overhear.
  • Only speak when asked to, and don't give more information than asked for.
  • Address the judge as "Your Honor."
  • State your case clearly. Specify what you're asking for, and give reasons.
  • Don't raise your voice.

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 child.

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