Questions To Ask In a Custody Case (And Ones to Expect)

When you and your spouse separate, your children need you to ensure their care. A great start is asking the right questions during the custody process.

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Questions to ask a lawyer about child custody

Before hiring a lawyer, you'll want to ask whether they've represented cases like yours and decide whether you feel comfortable working with them.

Your lawyer should be knowledgeable about the processes and rules for your court. They should be able to answer:

  • Do I have to go to mediation with my spouse?
    Mediation, a guided conversation between spouses, is designed to speed an agreement and is sometimes required before or during the court process.
  • Can I move?
    Neither parent may flee from the judge's decision—especially not by taking the children without permission. Ask the lawyer for feedback if you plan to move during your case. They can also tell you how far state law will allow you to move should you receive physical custody (though you can move farther with permission from the court or other parent).

Other questions will be specific to your family situation.

  • Should I seek a temporary custody order?
    A temporary custody arrangement helps define a routine for your children while you and your spouse negotiate. Eventually, the judge makes a final decision that replaces the temporary order.
  • I have evidence in my favor. Can I use it at trial?
    This depends on whether it was collected appropriately and whether the judge considers it relevant. Your lawyer will also have an opinion about whether it will help your case.

Example discovery questions in a child custody case

In the discovery phase, lawyers (or parents representing themselves) gather information from the other side. Your lawyer could ask your spouse about their job, physical or mental health, romantic relationships, etc. Your spouse's lawyer will want similar information from you. And both sides can gather information from the other's witnesses.

Interrogatory questions request written answers. A deposition, by contrast, is live testimony (in-person or remote). The judge does not attend, but a court reporter transcribes the deposition questions and responses (and video may be recorded) to show the judge.

Simple, factual questions help the judge understand the basics.

  • Are you the legal parent of these children?
  • Do you meet residency requirements for these legal proceedings?
  • What is your income now? Has this recently changed?

In-depth, narrative questions can indirectly reveal the parents' personalities and commitment levels.

  • What health challenges have your children faced?
  • What activities make your children happy?

Generally, courts favor parents who are aware of their children's personalities, histories and well-being.

Sample questions to ask in a custody trial

If you and your spouse don't reach agreement, you'll have to go to trial, which might last several days.

At trial, both sides can question lay witnesses (such as family members) and hired expert witnesses (such as psychologists). Parents are considered lay witnesses.

Your own lawyer will ask you direct examination questions, and your spouse's lawyer will do the same for your spouse. These may begin with straightforward questions like:

  • Was your spouse present at the birth?
  • Who does most of the grocery shopping?

Here are some sample direct examination questions that require longer answers:

  • How do you support the children in their daily activities? Do you meet their needs like dressing, bathing, meals and homework help?
  • What emotional relationship do you have with the children?
  • How do you contribute to expenses?

Parents often have different impressions of their roles, so it's important to make your side heard. Your lawyer will tell you ahead of time what information you should include when responding to questions asked in child custody court.

Your spouse's lawyer will later ask you questions, and your lawyer will question your spouse. This is called cross-examination. The other lawyer may use the opportunity to reframe your earlier answers or poke holes in your credibility.

Cross-examination questions often begin "But isn't it true that…?" or "Wouldn't you agree that…?" Answer factually, and don't air grudges. Judges disapprove of a parent badmouthing or undercutting the other as children generally benefit from parents who can work together.

One last question to ask...

A custody case can feel overwhelming. Your information has to be well organized.

Ask yourself:

  • Should I use a co-parenting app?

The Custody X Change app has many features that help you organize the evidence you need.

Use Custody X Change to stay organized and get what's best for your child.

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