By: Jessica A. Bryant
The goal of this series of blog posts is to help people that have not been through a family law hearing anticipate what questions they may face from the judge, opposing counsel or the opposing party during the hearing. Part I of this series focused on what questions may be asked during a hearing on supposal and/or child support. This Part 2 focuses on what questions may be asked during a hearing on child custody related issues (decision-making and/or parenting time). The third part will focus on what questions may be asked during a hearing on issues of property/debt allocation, attorney’s fees, and other miscellaneous questions that may be faced. Keep in mind that all the forms and instructions available online tied into family law, such as the Colorado divorce instructions on the State Judicial Branch website, might give information on how to proceed with a case, but do not prepare people for what a court hearing is really all about.
Colorado no longer uses the term “custody.” Parental responsibilities are broken up into decision-making responsibility (who makes major decisions for the children) and parenting time (the schedule of time the children have with each parent). When initially deciding decision making and parenting time, the court is governed by the best interest standard set forth in C.R.S. 14-10-124 (several different factors for the court to consider what is best for the child). Therefore, many of the questions in an initial parental responsibilities hearing may be focused around the best interest factors. It is recommended that, when structuring your testimony (the statement you give to the Court) you research the best interest factors and explain to the court how they support your requests.
For a hearing regarding the initial determination of parenting time, you may be asked some of the following questions:
- What are you requesting regarding parenting time?
- What has your parenting time been with the child?
- How have parental duties been allocated (i.e., who goes to parent-teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, extracurricular activities, who makes dinner for the child, does the bath and bedtime routine, etc.)?
- Are there any half or step siblings in your home to whom the child is bonded?
- If you have any history of mental health treatment, alcohol or drug dependency, etc., be prepared to be asked about that history, whether you are currently in treatment, whether you believe such has an impact on your ability to care for the minor child, etc.
- What efforts, if any, have you made to encourage the relationship between the child and the other parent (this is a big factor for the court so don’t just wait to be asked this question, include in your testimony examples of how you encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent)?
- What is the distance between your home and the other parent’s home?
- What is the distance between your home and the child’s school?
- What is your work schedule?
- If you are working while the child is out of school, who will be caring for the child?
- Will you will be able to get the child to school on time and, if not, if you have made arrangements to get the child to school on time?
- Whether you are able to place the child’s needs ahead of your own (this is also a big factor for the court).
- The main questions you will likely face from the other party or other attorney will be to attack your answers and positions on some of these questions set forth above. For example, if you have had limited involvement with the minor child, they may focus on that history. If you work nights, they may focus on that and how you will be able to effectively care for the child if you are working nights and sleeping during the day. You will likely be aware of the other party’s arguments as to why you should not have as much parenting time as you are requesting (as that is often a topic of debate before the actual hearing date and because of the pre-trial filing requirements), so be prepared to be questioned on the arguments they have made against you in the past.
In addition to the previous questions, for a hearing regarding the initial determination of major decision-making, you may be asked some of the following questions:
- What has your past involvement been in making major decisions for the minor child (if you have helped make decisions about school enrollment, medical care, etc.)?
- Do you believe you and the other party will be able to effectively make decisions about the minor child?
- If there is a history of domestic violence, or accusations of such, be prepared to face questions about the accusations. If the court finds credible evidence of domestic violence, the court is not to order joint decision making over the objection of the other party unless there is credible evidence the parties can make decisions jointly in a way that is safe for the abused party and the child.
- Much like the parenting time questions above, the other party will likely focus on any ways to attack your position on the issue decision-making. Thus, if you have agreed to just let the other party make decisions in the past, be prepared to face questions on that. If attempts to make decisions have just devolved into arguments, be prepared to face questions on how you possibly think you would both be able to reach agreements in the future.
For hearings related to requests to modify parenting or decision making responsibility, the issues are often more narrow. For example, a party’s parenting time cannot be restricted unless there is evidence that the child is in physical or emotional danger from the current schedule. If that request is being made, the questions will likely focus on the endangerment allegations being made. Decision making generally cannot be modified unless there is evidence of agreement or endangerment (there are a few other possible scenarios but they are rare). Therefore, in a hearing on modifying decision making, the questions would likely focus on the standards set forth in C.R.S. 14-10-131.
This Part 2 by no means represents the comprehensive list of all questions you might be asked, but is intended to give an idea of potential questions that may be asked to better allow you to prepare for any potential hearing. Additionally, presenting evidence at a hearing consists of more than just answering questions. You also need to be prepared to prove your answer and evidence to the court through the presentation of exhibits. Of course if you are represented, your Denver family law attorney will be able to provide you the with information you may need to personally prepare for testifying in court. Additional information regarding hearing procedures and what to expect at a hearing can be found in other blogs on our website and blog.