Gathering the necessary documentation for child custody should begin long before going into court. A judge should receive and have time to review the documents before the actual custody hearings, but parents who are separated and headed for divorce may want to start keeping records of the child's interaction with both of them.
Those records may include phone call logs. These can be submitted by a parent to show regular contact with the child or to demonstrate that the other parent does not have a very close relationship with the child. The same is true of visitation logs. However, if one parent only has sporadic contact with the child, that parent might try to claim that the actions of the other parent are preventing contact. Parents may also want to bring report cards and other written documentation. This could even include statements from teachers or neighbors. If the child has multiple trips to the emergency room when with one parent, the other parent may want to document that.
A parent who initiates custody proceedings usually submits this documentation along with the request for custody. The other parent will have the opportunity to see the documentation and respond to it. It is better to have more documentation than is needed than to not have enough. In some cases, there may also be a custody evaluation.
A custody battle in court is not an inevitable part of divorce. In some cases, parents are able to work with their attorneys and reach an agreement about a schedule for child custody and visitation without litigation. In cases involving going to court, an attorney may help a parent prepare. A judge will make a decision that is based on the best interests of the child, and this involves looking at a number of factors, including what arrangement will offer the child stability.