I've recently gone through this and have a final custody hearing at the end of Sept. Basically I would get legal representation at the start - I found that the judge involved really didn't want to engage with my ex2b or myself other than to confirm a couple of things - if your ex has a solicitor chances are they will tie you up in knots. Mine and her solicitors spent several hours going backwards and forwards and we were all interviewed by CAFCASS. They will take into account all types of things you raise in your initial statement - try to keep things factual rather than emotive.
At the time my ex2b had set me up with a semi-fictitious assault charge which was later dropped by the police as she had blatantly lied on her statement but was quite key according to the judge at the time so this may work in your favour. They will probably place an interim order in place, may well be a shared arrangement as we got, until the final hearing which in our case is 16 weeks after the interim hearing due to CAFCASS needing to sort out their reports.
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly, it's good to have an idea of what is going to happen before you get into court. Did you just get a solicitor involved or did you have to get a barrister as well - my ex2b has mentioning hiring one? After the initial hearing when did CARCASS start their work, days or weeks after?
Sorry to hear you've been going through it, hope it all works out well.
A family solicitor should be enough - I think barristers only get involved for the divorce hearings. CAFCASS will probably get involved on the day of the hearing and beyond if an agreement can't be reached. They were quite clever with my hearing - they would take the kids off between both parents and monitor how they were with each, behaviour, happiness etc. They also interviewed my kids at length several times then and over the last few weeks to see if their feelings had changed. Both are adamant they want to stay with me so hopefully that will count in my favour! I think they tend to quite 12-16 weeks for reports but will place an interim order in the meantime.