Custody Battles: What to Expect in the Courtroom

The majority of parents settle custody issues outside of court, sometimes with the assistance of their attorneys or a mediator and sometimes on their own. For those who cannot reach an agreement, a custody hearing will be set where both parties may present their evidence and legal arguments to the court, which will then make a custody determination. While the thought of going to court can be cause for apprehension, this is often due to the uncertainty of what will happen during the hearing. This blog explores how you can keep the anxiety levels at a minimum by knowing what to expect in the courtroom.  

The first thing that any parent engaged in a custody battle should do is familiarize themselves with Indiana’s child custody order statute so that they know what the judge will be looking for when making a decision on custody. This statute provides that the court shall determine custody in accordance with the child’s best interests, that there will be no presumption in favor of either parent, and when determining the best interests of the child, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including those listed in the statute. Factors listed in the statute include, but are not limited to (I.C. 31-17-2-8): the wishes of the parents and the child, the child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community, the age and sex of the child, the child’s relationship with their parents, siblings, and anyone else who may affect the child’s best interests, and the physical and mental health of all parties involved. If seeking a modification of custody and not an original custody order, the party requesting the modification must also prove that there has been a substantial change in one of the statutory factors above (I.C. 31-17-2-21). 

Once acquainted with the particular circumstances the court will consider when making its decision, a party then needs to collect the appropriate evidence to support their claim. Your attorney will advise you on any specific documents or items needed, however, because you know your life better than anyone else, there may be evidence in your possession, or that is easily obtainable, which your attorney is unaware even exists. Common evidence in child custody cases includes witness testimony, social media posts, text and e-mail messages, photos and videos, medical records, report cards and academic awards, letters, and documentation of the extra-curricular activities of the child and the parents participation in such activities. When gathering evidence for your attorney, keep in mind that any testimony, document, or other tangible item you wish to have admitted to the court must first be relevant. Evidence is relevant if it (1) has a tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and (2) the fact is of consequence in making a final determination (Ind. R. Evid. 401). 

At the beginning of the custody hearing, one or both of the party’s attorneys will generally ask for a separation of the witness, so that only the witness currently testifying will be in the courtroom, and all others will be directed to wait in the hallway until their name is called (Ind. R. Evid. 615).  Each party will then get a turn to call their witnesses and submit tangible evidence to the court. The parent who initiated the case generally goes first. After each witness is questioned by the attorney for the party who called them to testify, the other party’s attorney is given a chance to cross examine them. During questioning of the witnesses you should expect that some may lie about particular issues. If this happens, remain calm and simply write a note to your attorney that the witness is lying so that they may question the witness about the lie when it is their turn. 

You also want to be prepared for giving your own testimony. Your attorney may go over the types of questions they will ask you as well as some basic rules to keep in mind while testifying. These rules include answering only the question you are asked without providing any additional information, remembering that “I do not remember”, “Yes” and “No” are all perfectly acceptable answers, and pausing your answer if either attorney makes an objection to the question you are asked. Be honest, avoid attempting to fill in details that you really do not remember, and if you do not understand a question or just need to hear it again, simply say so. 

If you are involved in a custody battle, the experienced attorneys at Ciyou & Associates can help ease the anxiety of a hearing and ensure that you get the best outcome possible. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.


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