At the onset of divorce and child custody matters, people are often still struggling with high anxiety, confusion, anger, sadness, shock, and so many more emotions.  In order to get focused, get organized, and prepare for what’s ahead, one must work hard to reign-in all of those feelings.  There is a lot at stake, including significant financial issues and, of course, how much time you are going to be “awarded” with your children via the court’s child custody order.

Common questions include what is appropriate information to gather and use?  And… When is it appropriate to use that information?  The answers are important because used improperly or not at the right time could be a hindrance and not a help in either child support matters or child custody proceedings.

Depending upon the laws of your state, the order of operations can be quite different.  Most commonly the order is often:

– Divorce

– Child support (interim)

– Possible mediation or parental coordination efforts are initiated.

– Child custody

– Child support (based upon the outcome of the child custody hearings).

Early hearings are often very limited in scope and set the framework for future activities.  Don’t be surprised for them to last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes with time split evenly between you, your ex-partner, and the court to lay the foundation of what’s going to take place down the road.  During these hearings, making the maximum impact in the fewest words on your very top concerns is your goal.  Getting rulings on early motions and other courtroom “posturing” is customary.

Mediation attempts to get both you and your ex-partner to agree on child custody matters in an effort to minimize courtroom time or eliminate it altogether.  In matters such as these, prepare yourself to give some, get some, and not resolve some major issues – the primary failure will most often be along the child custody arrangement.  Your approach in these forums are not to bash or bad-mouth the ex, but to focus on outstanding issues and a solution to each.    (Other forums, like custody evaluations, meetings with GALs, seeing parenting coordinators will focus more on parenting concerns, habits both good and bad, lifestyles, logistical issues, and more.)

The bigger hearings will come – eventually.  Even there is it extremely important to approach your case methodically, even chronologically when appropriate.  In that vein, organization is the order of the day.  Preparing with your attorney to address every concern as effectively as possible in the shortest possible amount of time will leave the court (hopefully) with maximum impact.

Your questions should be ordered from most important to least important (the term “least” used not to describe the issue, but to assess it’s potential for impacting the judge).  The topics you’re to cover should be arranged the same way – most impactful to least impactful.  In doing so, you are able to hit the most important issues before a judge can cut off your testimony after having heard enough.

It is important for you to be able to remain calm while at the same time articulate yourself about your parenting skills and your concerns about your ex’s parenting abilities.  It’s a lot easier said than done.  You’re in an extremely high-pressure forum and lives literally hang in the balance.  How much time you will spend with your children and how you’ll be able to arrange your own day-to-day living situation are going to be decided.