How to Prepare for Child Custody Court

When you and the other parent are not able to agree on a parenting plan, you must go to child custody court. Here, each parent presents their case, and the judge decides which arrangement serves the best interest of the child.

Thorough preparation is the key to success in your bid for child custody.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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Read up on child custody in your state

Familiarizing yourself with the child custody practices in your state will allow you to build a proper case. Pay close attention to:

  • Custodial rights
  • Laws about paternity (if you're unmarried)
  • Definitions of the different types of custody (e.g., What percentage of parenting time is considered joint physical custody?)
  • Rules of evidence
  • Terminology

The law is often difficult to parse. You don't have to understand everything. Just look for what applies to your case, and if you're having any trouble, hire a lawyer or find a legal aid office for help.

Create your parenting plan

To prepare for court, you must make a parenting plan and be able to explain why it's best for your child.

As you make a plan, you can:

Using a parenting plan checklist helps you cover all the bases.

Work with a lawyer

A lawyer can help you:

  • Create a parenting plan (But you can start one on your own to save money.)
  • Prepare and file paperwork
  • Determine the evidence you'll need to back up your claims
  • Figure out proper courtroom etiquette
  • Learn how to respond to the questions you'll be asked in court

While they can be expensive, lawyers can improve the outcomes of custody cases. Some even provide free services for low-income litigants.

Gather evidence

Evidence is the backbone of your case. Without it, you don't have a case at all. Evidence includes exhibits like:

  • Medical reports, criminal records and other official documents
  • Photos and videos of you and your child
  • Messages between parents
  • Parenting journal entries
  • A parenting plan with your proposed schedule and rules written in court-ready language
  • A visual calendar of your proposed schedule
  • A parenting time report that shows what percentage of time your child would spend with each parent

Either your lawyer will prepare an exhibit list detailing everything you'll discuss in court, or you'll make your own.

Find witnesses

Witnesses help you back up your claims. In child custody court, witnesses tell of any firsthand knowledge they have of a parent's relationship with the child. They can also speak to anything they know about a parent's behavior, health, etc.

Among others, witnesses can include:

  • Friends
  • Relatives
  • Teachers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Medical doctors

Typically, witnesses appear in person, but some courts accept character reference letters if the person cannot make it to court.

Learn how to behave

Your behavior could impact the judge's verdict. When you go to court:

  • Don't talk out of turn.
  • Keep your emotions in check.
  • Speak clearly.
  • Directly answer the questions asked.
  • Wear business casual clothing.

The impression you make should show the court you're capable of caring for the child and setting a good example.

Know what to expect

Try to get an idea of court procedure ahead of time. You can even observe another family's hearing to get a feel for how things work.

Some questions to ask your lawyer or a court employee include:

  • Who will be in the courtroom?
  • What's the order of proceedings?
  • Are there any documents I should bring?
  • Does the judge usually make their final decision the same day as the hearing?

It's normal to feel anxious before you go to child custody court. Knowing what's to come helps you feel comfortable and ready to present your case.

Stay organized

Throughout your custody case, you'll need to organize a lot of information. You may need to draft multiple parenting plans and schedules, take notes of interactions with the other parent, print messages you exchange with them and more.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of this in one place. With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, a parenting journal, parent-to-parent messaging and beyond, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for child custody court.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

What's your best schedule?

What's your best schedule?

Take the Quiz To Find Out

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

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Long distance schedules

Third party schedules


Summer break

Parenting provisions


How to make a schedule

Factors to consider

Parenting plans:

Making a parenting plan

Changing your plan

Interstate, long distance

Temporary plans

Guides by location:

Parenting plans

Scheduling guidelines

Child support calculators

Age guidelines:

Birth to 18 months

18 months to 3 years

3 to 5 years

5 to 13 years

13 to 18 years


Joint physical custody

Sole physical custody

Joint legal custody

Sole legal custody

Product features:

Software overview

Printable calendars

Parenting plan templates

Journal what happens

Expense sharing

Parenting time tracking

Calculate time & overnights

Ways to use:

Succeed by negotiating

Prepare for mediation

Get ready for court


Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

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