A child custody hearing can be anything from a preliminary hearing to a full trial. Often, a preliminary hearing and mediation takes place followed by a pre-trial and a full trial, all on different dates. What you can expect from a child custody hearing depends on what stage of litigation your case has reached.
If your child custody hearing is in mediation, expect to sit in a room with the other party and discuss the case with a mediator. The mediator will see if both parties can come to an agreement. If so, the agreement will go before the court. You may not have to go to any other hearings if the arrangement is acceptable in the eyes of the court.
Before pre-trial, both parties must send the court a list of what they plan to use as evidence. They must also send documents to the court saying why they are contesting the other party's position, if they are contesting it. When you go to court, you must argue your side or attempt to come to an agreement. If you reach an agreement with the other party, you may not go to trial.
When you go to trial, you must present your evidence and argue your case before a judge. The judge will use the facts presented to decide what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child. She will consider factors such as safety, health, prior custody and stability. Typically, the decision will come in the mail after the trial.