Fighting for the custody of a child is any parent’s biggest fear. Whether you are separating from the other parent or in the middle of a divorce, it’s an overwhelming process. Often, people aren’t sure whether to hire an attorney or navigate the custody battle on their own.
However, it’s a crucial consideration when you want to petition the court for custody. While it’s possible to represent yourself, and tempting at times, it’s a risky choice to make. Even when the case seems simple and straightforward, these legal matters are often quite complex.
When you partner with an attorney that knows how to prepare for a custody hearing, you have someone to build your case, maintain paperwork, track deadlines and important details, and protect your best interests. If you choose to represent yourself, you bear the responsibility of learning child custody laws and the family code of Texas.
Factors to Consider As You Make the Decision to Hire an Attorney
- Does the other parent have an attorney? If your ex has a lawyer, it’s a good idea to have representation of your own.
- Have your case’s circumstances changed drastically? Some cases begin in a straightforward manner but become increasingly complex as it continues.
- Are you familiar with family law in Texas? Navigating these matters requires a great deal of research, and you need to thoroughly understand which laws apply to your case. Additionally, you are the sole individual responsible for paperwork, deadlines, and communication.
- Do you have a criminal record? In a custody case, certain charges are challenging. If they are recent, this is all the more true.
- Does your case involve the CPS? If your case involves CPS, it’s a good idea to consult a family law attorney to gain a better understanding of your situation.
How to Hire an Attorney
When you aren’t sure how to prepare for a custody hearing or don’t have the patience to work with your ex, find an experienced attorney to protect and pursue your interests. If you schedule a free consultation with Universal Law Group, one of our attorneys will listen to your case and help you understand the laws that apply.
With an advocate on your side, you have someone who already understands the rules and procedures of the Houston court system. Moreover, our legal team has experience with a variety of judges and understands how they make decisions.
Once you retain an attorney, you have someone to guide you through the entire family court process.
Your Guide for How to Prepare for a Custody Hearing
As you begin the process, the first step is to file a petition called SAPCR with the district court. Moreover, it is crucial to file this request with the right court. Typically, this falls to where the child lives for at least six months, and in which county you’ve lived for at least 3 months.
Your attorney will be able to handle this for you.
What Goes into a Petition?
There are a few factors that must be included in the petition.
- Identification of both parents
- The names, birth dates, and social security numbers of all children involved
- Information regarding any previous family court cases, such as child support or divorce
- The current custodial agreements regarding the children
- Your proposed agreement for custody
- Details as to why this agreement is in the child’s best interests
- A request for court intervention
- Details regarding the income of both parents
Where to File the Petition
Your family law attorney prepares the documentation and files it with the local court clerk. Additionally, courts require that those who file a petition pay a filing fee. The fee itself varies depending on the city or county.
Upon submitting the paperwork and fee to the clerk, you must complete the services of the complaint. This means you have to deliver a copy of the documents to the other parent involved.
If finding the parent is difficult, you have a few options.
- Ask the sheriff to deliver the documents for you.
- Hire a private process server to find the parent and deliver the complaint.
In some cases, it’s not possible to find the opposing parent. If this is the case, it’s possible to request permission for alternate services, such as a notice in a local newspaper or certified mail.
Once the other parent receives or has sufficient notice, your attorney files proof of service with the court. This starts the clock on the waiting period, in which the other parent has a chance to respond to the complaint.
The Texas court requires that you wait a minimum of 21 days after service before a hearing. However, it is possible to hold temporary orders hearings or an emergency hearing before this time. If this is necessary, your attorney can request it from the court.
Generally speaking, this waiting period allows the other parent to review the documents, hire a lawyer, and respond to the complaint. If they do not file a response, they risk a default judgment.
What Is a Default Judgment?
When a parent does not respond to a custody complaint before the deadline, the court might assume the parent agrees to the petition. As such, it’s possible to have custody and child support awarded to the filing parent. However, this still requires that the proposed agreement is in the best interest of the child.
If you believe you are not the biological parent of the child, it’s important to avoid a default judgment. In many states, the presumes you are the parent if you were married to the other parent at the time of birth. The only way to overcome this is to provide proof that you are not the biological parent.
If you were never married and want to question your biological connection to the child, your only option is to tell the court that you are not the parent. Additionally, you must request a DNA test.
This process is the adjudication of paternity.
If an unmarried parent requests a DNA test, the judge must order it before moving forward with the custody hearing. Failure to respond to the petition means you waive that right. This is part of why it is so crucial to understand how to prepare for a custody hearing.
Preparing Yourself For Custody Court
As you navigate how to prepare for a custody hearing, it’s important to enter the court as ready as possible. This means lining up your arguments. Moreover, it means having the right people on your side.
Here are four essential items to prepare.
- Answers to potential questions: Depending on your specific situation, you might have to answer questions about your income, career, living situation, and more. Your attorney can help you prepare responses to possible questions.
- Important individuals: These are people who can effectively support your claims that you are a suitable parent.
- Arguments: These are critical answers to the most important factors of your custody case. Moreover, building arguments is one of the most important parts of knowing how to prepare for a custody hearing.
- Your presentation: Be formal and conservative in your hairstyle, clothing, makeup, etc. You want to present yourself as responsible and reliable.
The Court’s Decision
After both parties present their arguments, the judge renders their decision. As they reach their decision, they make it based on the best interests of the child.
What Does the Decision Include?
- A visitation schedule that covers weekends and holidays
- Which parent is the custodial parent
- The child support arrangement
Learn How to Prepare for a Custody Hearing With Universal Law Group
If you still aren’t sure how to prepare for a custody hearing, contact the family law attorneys at Universal Law Group. Schedule a free consultation with one of our experts to see what we recommend for your child custody case.
With the right preparation and representation, you position yourself to win your custody case. Call our firm now to learn more about your rights.