In Ohio child custody cases, you are not required to be represented by an attorney. It is possible to represent yourself in these matters, but you may be disadvantaged. An attorney can provide you with legal guidance, help you make strategic decisions regarding your Ohio child custody situation, be an advocate for you and your Ohio parental rights, and provide you with an insight to the Ohio child custody process that has developed through years of experience in the Ohio domestic court system. The decision whether to hire an attorney to represent you in your child custody case is ultimately up to you, but here are ten things that you should expect at your first Ohio child custody hearing.
1. Another Court Date Will Be Set In The Future – It would be extremely rare for an Ohio child custody case to be resolved at the first hearing. Your first hearing date will be a chance for the lawyers to meet and discuss possible settlement and for the judge or magistrate to determine any emergency issues. A continuance will be set and you will get another court date in the future.
2. Your Second Court Date Will Probably Not Be Your Last Court Date Either – Unfortunately, if there are still Ohio child custody issues being worked out between the parents, the second court hearing date will probably not be your last one either. Whenever there is a dispute on Ohio custody issues, the lawyers will need time to conduct depositions, work on discovery, and to draft and negotiate settlement offers and parenting plans. Serious child custody matters resolving themselves in a month or two are not the norm.
3. Your Future Court Dates Will Be Farther Out Than You Think – Ohio Domestic Relations Court and Juvenile Courts, at least in Franklin County, are really backed up. A new court date for your Ohio child custody case may not be available for over a month or more. The new court date will also need to be cleared with the parents and with all attorneys, so a couple of dates may need to be tried on everyone’s calendars before finding one that works. This isn’t all bad news. Time between court dates will let you and your attorney work on gathering documents, conducting discovery, and preparing settlement offers and / or new shared parenting proposals.
4. Plan To Arrive Early – You should plan to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to your Ohio child custody hearing time in order to check in with the court and meet with your attorney. It’s never a good move for you to not be present when the court is calling your case to be heard.
5. Expect To Wait For Your Case To Be Heard – The time that you were given on your Notice of Hearing from the court is not the official start time for your Ohio child custody case to be heard. You should always be at court before that time, but your case will, more likely than not, be heard sometime later in the morning. The Ohio domestic or juvenile court has a lot of cases on the docket and they are working through them as the morning rolls on. If you are taking off time from work, expect to be at court at least all morning.
6. Your Ohio Child Custody Attorney Will Talk to the Judge Without You Present – It is common for a judge or magistrate to ask to see the attorneys in his or her chambers before a child custody case is heard. This gives the judge or magistrate the chance to hear the issues briefly from the attorneys, ask questions about the case and the child or children, and to let the attorneys know what may or may not happen. Your attorney will meet with you afterwards and let you know what happened or what the judge or magistrate is thinking.
7. You May Not Get A Chance To Talk With The Judge – When a case is called, the parents and their lawyers will move to the tables in the courtroom. The judge or magistrate will typically address the lawyers and let them make statements, answer questions, or provide evidence or documents to review. The whole process can happen without the parents saying a word or getting a chance to address the court. However, there are certainly times when the judge or magistrate would prefer to hear an answer from the parent and not the lawyer. In these instances, the judge or magistrate will directly ask a parent a question about their child custody case and it is fine to answer these questions. Please remember that a judge or magistrate may not like a parent interrupting their own lawyer or the opposing counsel while they are presenting the case and it is usually best to whisper to your lawyer or slip him or her a note so that he or she can address your concern.
8. You Will Have To Deal With The Opposing Parent – Just like you, the opposing parent has a right to be present at the child custody hearing. You will have to deal with them being present, even if it means sitting across a conference table to work on a settlement. It may be hard for some people to cope with being around the opposing parents as child custody cases can involve a lot of stress, emotional anger, and hurt, but it is necessary for the process that both parents are present. You should always let your Ohio child custody attorney know about your comfort levels regarding the other parent so that he or she can make decisions to minimize your stress.
9. A Guardian Ad Litem May Be Appointed – In child custody cases, the court or the attorneys may think it is in the best interest of the children to have a Guardian ad Litem appointed. A Guardian ad Litem (typically another Ohio child custody attorney) has an important two-fold role: 1 – to determine what he or she believes is in the best interest of the child or children, and 2 – to represent the children’s wishes. Guardians are not appointed on every single child custody case, but more often than not, they are appointed if the child custody case appears to be headed to trial. The Guardian’s legal fees are split between the parties and he or she will conduct an investigation, meet with the children, meet with the parents, and give an opinion on the best interest of the minor children.
10. You Will Have To Make Some Decisions With Your Ohio Child Custody Attorney About The Next Step – Once the first Ohio child custody hearing date is out of the way, you should meet with your Ohio child custody attorney and discuss the next step. Document and record discovery, depositions, witness interviews and witness affidavits are all beneficial but they will cost money and time to pursue and prepare. You should meet with your attorney and discuss the benefit of the information that can be gained versus the costs of pursuing it and the risk of it not being as helpful as you had hoped. If the child custody matter appears to be headed to trial, it is always better to be prepared with more information than to play it safe and not pursue as much discovery.