Can You Win a Custody Case Without an Attorney?

By Wayne Thomas

When parents cannot come to an agreement regarding child custody, the legal process to set the custody arrangement operates like a trial and must be resolved by a judge. Although you are not required by law to retain an attorney, each state has specific procedural and filing requirements that you must observe. For that reason, understanding what needs to be included in your paperwork and what factors a judge will consider in making custody decisions will help ensure that you are fully prepared and equipped to present your case to the court.

Custody Basics

In order to effectively present your case without an attorney, you must first understand that all states make a distinction between two basic components of custody -- physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody, sometimes called residency, refers to where your child stays overnight. Legal custody, on the other hand, is the authority to make important decisions for your child, such as medical care and school choice. Each type of custody can be shared by both parents or awarded solely to one parent.

Parenting Plans

Most states encourage parents to resolve custody disputes amicably and develop a plan that allows both parents frequent and continuing contact with the child. If you and the other parent cannot agree, the matter is considered "contested," and the court will need to resolve the dispute. Each parent will have the opportunity to submit a parenting plan that sets forth their custody requests. In addition to indicating whether you are seeking sole or shared custody, you will likely be allowed to provide more specific details, such as an itemized schedule for physical custody that includes holidays and indicates how transportation will be handled. Fill-in parenting plan forms can be found on many state court websites or through an online legal document provider.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More


All states require judges to further the best interests of the child in making custody decisions. This standard allows the court to consider several factors, including which parent can best meet the specific needs of the child, the proximity of each parent's home to the child's school and activities, and the relationship between the child and each parent. In addition, states specify varying factors for courts to consider. Some states allow the preference of the child to be taken into consideration if he or she is of a suitable age or maturity level. Many states will not grant any custody rights to a parent that has committed domestic violence, unless certain steps have been taken to help ensure a safe environment for the child, such as the completion of counseling and drug treatment programs. It is important to know the exact factors used in your state to decide custody and to tailor the evidence you present accordingly.

Presenting the Case

Custody matters are highly fact-sensitive. This means that you will need to present evidence to the court at a hearing to demonstrate the reasons you believe your custody request supports the child's best interest. This can be in the form of witnesses, such as testimony from friends or family members indicating that you have a strong bond with your child. It might also include testimony from experts, such as a psychologist or pediatrician, explaining the nature of your child's special needs. You might also present documents, such as the other parent's criminal records, or report cards and drawings made by your child. Your objective at the hearing is to make a connection between the evidence presented and the factors the judge will consider in making the custody determination. Always stress your child's bests interests, rather than your own feelings, when making your case to the court.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
How to Create a Child Custody Plan


Related articles

Court Procedures for Shared Custody in South Carolina

Understanding the custody procedure in South Carolina can help parents better prepare and present their case to a judge. The process operates similar to a trial, with parties exchanging information in advance and attempting to reach a mutual resolution, based in either sole or shared custody arrangements. If the parents cannot effectively resolve these issues to the satisfaction of the court, a judge will issue an order following an analysis of the factors related to the best interest of the child..

Child Custody Rights for 12 Years & Older

Establishing child custody can be a highly contentious aspect of divorce. Although each parent may feel entitled to a certain amount of contact and authority over a child, custody decisions are made according to what is best for the child. In cases where the child is of sufficient age to understand the nature of the proceedings, his or her participation and preference might be considered by the court. Understanding how state law impacts the custody rights of your pre-teen or teenage child will help you better prepare for the custody process.

Child Custody & Relocation Rights in Tennessee

When parents get a divorce, their custody order or parenting plan establishes each parent's rights. If a parent plans to relocate with the child, both parents should understand the steps for requesting and opposing a potential move. Tennessee child custody laws include several provisions related to parental relocation. In some cases, a state court may prevent a parent from relocating with the child.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

The Best Interest of Children in a Custody Evaluation

Understanding the needs of a child is a crucial component to making an informed custody decision. Custody matters are ...

How to Build a Child Custody Case

When building a child custody case, the goal is to present to the judge facts and evidence to support the assertion ...

How to Prove a Parent Unfit in Child Custody Cases

Judges view parental fitness as an integral part of a child custody decision. Determining what is in the best interests ...

Tips for Winning a Child Custody Battle

When making a child custody determination, most jurisdictions make a decision based on the best interests of the child. ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED