Ideally, the Michigan courts hope that divorcing parents will come to a custody agreement on their own — without a trial. However, that doesn’t always happen.

If it looks like you and your spouse or ex-spouse are headed toward a full-blown custody battle, here’s what to expect along the way:

1. A scheduling conference

This is the first time you’ll probably meet in court. The judge will usually identify the core issues and disputes, make referrals to other resources as required and set some deadlines for the future development of the case.

2. Involvement in family services programs

The more contentious the battle, the more involvement you’re likely to have with some kind of family services program. Almost all family courts require parents in a custody battle to take a co-parenting course. Those are designed to teach you how to minimize the conflict for the child and how to work together with your ex as co-parents even when you couldn’t work together as a couple.

You may also be subjected to a custody evaluation, which is designed to help the judge make the best decision for your child. If a mental health issue or addiction is alleged, you may also have to submit to psychological testing. You and your family may have to undergo counseling as well.

3. A pre-trial settlement conference

This is a last ditch attempt on the part of the judge to get you and your ex to settle without an actual trial. The judge may discuss the situation with you both, encourage a deal, ask if you’ve tried mediation or simply schedule the trial.

4. The trial

This is where you go into court and present your case for custody, and your ex does the same. At this point, the decision is entirely up to the judge. Most couples prefer to avoid this route because they lose a significant amount of control over their future — but it can’t always be helped (especially if one spouse is being unreasonable).

Custody battles during or after a divorce are, without a doubt, stressful. The more prepared you are for the process, the easier you’ll handle that stress. Find out more about your legal options.