Have a Plan.
It will be easier if you know the details of the plan you want and have a backup plan. Get a calendar and mark up an ideal parenting schedule so you can see what it looks like. Then, note the areas you are willing to change and the ones you feel are too important to change. Prepare one or two best alternatives to your plan. Practice explaining your plan saying it aloud, if you have time to do so.
Although it is OK if your testimony is the only evidence that visitation should be limited, having more evidence to support your request can be very helpful and make you feel better prepared. Examples of evidence include:
- Copies of threatening text messages, emails, letters, or voicemail
- A list of threats (including date, place and time, and what happened) that you can show the judge
- Friends and family with knowledge of past abuse or violence who are willing to testify at court
- Pictures of injuries, including bruises
- Medical records showing past history of abuse
- Police records and other criminal records
Bring all of this evidence with you to court. Bring extra copies of everything, if possible.
Be prepared to talk with the judge.
Write down everything you want to say before you get to court. List any evidence you have to support what happened and why you are making your request. This will help you remember everything, stay on track and reduce your nervousness. This is your time to explain what happened that justifies your request for a specific visitation order.
Going in front of a judge can be scary and intimidating. A judge’s time is limited but the judge wants to hear your story and get enough information to make a decision. Judges want to hear from each party and have to ask very direct questions to make sure they understand. Sometimes judges do not hear everything correctly, especially if both parties are talking at once. The judge does not want you to agree to something just because you want it over, or because the judge asks you hard questions. Judges know the parties are nervous and may have a hard time telling their story. Focus on your goal: ensuring you and your child are safe. A court order can be difficult to change once a judge signs it.
Ask for more time.
If the judge asks for additional evidence that you don’t have, it is OK to ask for time to gather the evidence. Ask the judge to consider resetting the case, or entering a temporary order to give you the time you need. Although the request may not be granted, it does not hurt to ask.
Take a friend.
Although your friend or family member may not get to stand in front of the judge with you, he or she can come into the courthouse with you and provide support, make you feel safer, and help you stay calm.
Have an advocate.
This may not be possible for everyone, but if you have an advocate (specifically, an attorney) to help you through the process, it may not seem so hard. Contact your local domestic violence program and find out what services it offers. An advocate can help you develop a safety plan for you and your children for before, during, and after court. Find information about local programs by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224, or online at: Texas Council on Family Violence – Service Provider Search.