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What is a Child Custody Hearing?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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When parents are not together, they may not be able to agree on who will bear what portion of responsibility for their child or who the child will live with. A child custody hearing is a legal procedure in which a court makes the decision. There are generally two possible outcomes of such a procedure. One parent may obtain full custody, making the other person a non-custodial parent, or they may be deemed joint custodians, giving them equal rights and responsibilities. Such procedures are usually carried out in domestic relations courts.

A child custody hearing is not something that arises automatically when two parents split. This process is usually initiated by one parent who either does not want to share the child at all or who only wants the other parent to access the child under certain circumstances. Two types of custody may be the subject of argument during the hearing. Physical custody refers to the determination of where a child will live. Legal custody refers to the determination of who will make decisions for the child, such as those regarding education and health.

During the child custody hearing, each parent will be allowed to present an argument. Generally, each will argue positively in his own behalf and he may outline issues of concern regarding the other parent. Lawyers are not generally required for a child custody hearing, but it may be in a person’s best interest to obtain one. This is especially true if a person is arguing special or important points or needs to defend himself against serious accusations. For example, if one parent wants to prove that another is unfit for custody, this may be best achieved by a legal professional, and the parent who is accused may provide a better defense against the allegations with the assistance of an attorney.

The child may be asked to testify in regards to claims that one parent makes about the other. Depending upon her age, the child may also be questioned about her preferences. In addition to what each parent claims and what the child says, many other factors can influence the court’s decision regarding the outcome of a child custody hearing.

These can include where a person lives, his line of employment, and his criminal record. The court may also consider details regarding third parties, such as boarders or spouses. Technically, the sex of the parent should not be a major determining factor. In the United States (US), however, statistics show that mothers are generally awarded custody more than fathers.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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