When Will Custody Matters Be Assigned to the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court as Opposed to the Circuit Court?
Child custody matters start in the Juvenile Domestic Relations District Court. The great thing about the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court, or the J&DR court, is the judges there spend most of their time hearing all manner of custody and visitation matters; those judges have seen it all and have a great handle on the relevant law and all of the factors related to your case.
If your child custody matter is related to a divorce, then the case will be in the circuit court along with the rest of the divorce. If it’s possible for you to separate them, meaning that the divorce itself is not as pressing as matters related to child support, then I generally recommend that people handle their custody matters in the J&DR court.
In the J&DR court, you will automatically get a guardian ad litem assigned to your case. In the circuit court, you have to make a motion for the court to assign a guardian ad litem, and the payment to the guardian ad litem is directly from the parties. It’s not unusual to negotiate the terms of a divorce before filing, and sometimes it’s not possible to file a divorce immediately, so it can be tricky trying to get a guardian ad litem in such situations.
If you have a full trial in the J&DR court and it doesn’t go the way that you want, you can appeal it, and the appeal will then be heard in the circuit court, the same place where divorces are heard. Appeals are heard de novo, which means they are heard as though they have never been heard before; therefore, anything that happened in the J&DR court didn’t happen at all. You get another bite at the apple without the prior trial having an effect on it.
What Factors Lead a Custody Matter to Go to Trial?
Custody matters are some of the most emotional and challenging cases for parties involved. After all, children are often the most valuable and treasured part of a parent’s life.
The first step to figuring out a custody arrangement is to discuss it with the other parent, if possible. If you can talk about what you want to happen in terms of a parenting plan with the other parent, this is the best way to figure everything out. Once you’ve got an arrangement made up, you can have it put to paper, filed with the court to become a court order.
Obviously, this isn’t always possible, which is why court-ordered custody exists in the first place. If you can’t reach an agreement with the other parent, then the next step would be to file for custody or visitation with the court and have the court try to figure out what should be put into an arrangement to encompass the best interests of the child.
Once it’s been filed, the first time you go to court is called an initial appearance. The initial appearance is not your trial. At this initial appearance, the court will assign a guardian ad litem, an attorney assigned to the case to investigate and figure out what they believe is in the best interests of the children. They will make that recommendation later at the actual trial. At the initial appearance, the court will assign a trial date for a date and time in the future. At that trial, everything will be litigated for the judge to determine what they think is in the child’s best interests.
It’s not uncommon for the parents to reach an agreement in the days leading up to their trial date. There is a lot of negotiation and discovery during that time that can push parents toward coming to an agreement that is best for their child.
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