Are you considering fighting for custody? Before you start gathering all of your evidence preparing for a fight, there are a few preliminary steps you should be aware of. For one, you will most likely need to obtain an attorney to represent you; a custody battle is hard in and of itself, so don’t start off losing by representing yourself. Secondly, before a judge will even consider hearing the substantive portions of your case, the judge will require that you attend mediation. Depending on the county that you are in, you may not be in front of a judge again for another 2-4 months. You will also be required to attend a parenting class that lasts about 4 hours and explains the custody process to make sure you know what you will be putting your children through and the resources that a custody battle requires. Most of the time, parents come to an agreement after they attend mediation. For those who do not, the process continues.
If there is no agreement in mediation, a judge will most likely appoint a child’s representative or Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) to represent you. This person would be an attorney for your child representing the best interests of your child and not necessarily your child’s wishes. The child’s representative or GAL will again attempt to settle the case by making recommendations to the court and trying to obtain an agreement by reaching a middle ground. If this attempt is unsuccessful, both parties will start preparing for trial by appointing a 604(b) custody evaluator, who is the court’s witness, or a 604.5 custody evaluator, who is a parties’ witness. You also will exchange extensive discovery and may have to sit through depositions to prepare for the custody trial.
The point of this article is not to scare you; it is simply to inform you of the custody process so that you can make an informed decision before you start litigating custody, only to realize you do not have the money or emotional stamina to take fight custody case all the way through. Consult with an experienced attorney on child litigation cases before taking that first step.