When a legal action is initiated which involves a child, if a parent is not residing in the same home as the child, he or she will presumptively be considered as the non-custodial parent. The only way to avoid this trap is to not leave the home, or allow your child to be taken out of it.
At the filing of a legal action involving a child, if a temporary injunction is issued to maintain the status quo (keep the child under the care of one parent), the excluded parent will presumptively be considered as non-custodial. Any pre-trial orders which impede your ability to parent your child can be immediately appealed. If you wait for trial, you will waive your right to later raise these issues.
Pre-trial if a parent consents to pay child support, the judge and both attorneys will take this as a signal that he or she agrees to be the non-custodial parent.
Any consent order a parent agrees to (even if it comes after a contested hearing) cannot be appealed. You do not have to "consent" to anything, even if your attorney says otherwise. Remember, attorneys are officers of the court, and quite possibly friends with the judge and opposing attorney. They are required to zealously represent you, and to uphold the constitution. Expect neither.
Normally an investigation of the parents will be done. This can be anything from a college volunteer working for CASA, an attorney called a Guardian Ad Litem, a private investigator, up to a pediatric psychologist. The job of all these folks is to invade the privacy of your relationship with your child, and transfer as much wealth as possible to themselves. Also you will either be encouraged or mandated to attend counseling, to achieve the same goals. Using the above constitutional citations you can object to any invasion of your privacy and your child¦s. If you fail to object, you waive your rights.
At trial your attorney can have a pre-trial brief prepared which carefully identifies the applicable laws and how your case applies to those laws (including of course constitutional law). Very few attorneys will do this. Most will present your case with no reference to any laws whatsoever, and simply allow the judge to rule as he or she wishes.
Also at trial both parents are considered to be voluntarily submitting the question of child custody to the court. Your attorney can assert that you do not want custody of your child decided by the state. If you don¦t do this, it will be considered waived for appeal purposes, as will any applicable state and constitutional laws not raised by your attorney in his or her oral arguments.
If you ask that the law be followed in your case, expect intimidation tactics such as your attorney threatening to resign, or being told visitation with your child will be reduced. If any of this happens, request a brochure or other method whereby you can file a complaint with your state board of responsibility.
If you receive an unfavorable decision at trial, your attorney can file a motion to reconsider, or a notice of appeal. If you are appealing there are strict time limits on this, which if not followed will cause your case to be thrown out. If you consent to anything at trial, it will not be appeallable.
Appeals are usually taken to a state appellate court, then if needed an application is filed to your state supreme court (they may be called another name).
The state supreme court has discretion whether to take your case or not, and they probably won't take it. If your state supreme court does not give you a favorable ruling, you can appeal properly preserved constitutional questions to the United State Supreme Court, which virtually never takes a family law case. Wherever your case finally stops, it will be considered final.