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What do family court judges want?

"Trepidation" probably best describes the feelings of a couple about to go to court for a child custody hearing. Even though your attorney has the case sewn up tight, it is hard not to wonder how the judge is going to approach the questions about where the children will live, what the visitation rules will be, and all the rest. The experts say the two most important considerations will be the status quo and what is in the best interest of the children.

Status quo refers to what is going on with the children now, who they are living with, how expenses are split, and other day-to-day matters. The court will tend to favor leaving things as they are to minimize disruption of the kid's lives. Asking the judge to change those arrangements will questioned closely, and remember that temporary custody often becomes permanent custody. How much time the children spend with the non-custodial partner is also important. In case of a custody battle, the court will pay attention to how much time the children spend with each parent, and sharing is seen as a good thing. But if there is a serious and solid reason why the ex should be kept away from the kids, make sure your attorney knows about it in detail.

Experimentation with novel custody arrangements or radical changes in visitation are not things family courts are famous for. Judges want the proceedings to move quickly and smoothly, but always remember that the law requires them to put the children first, ahead of animosity, ahead of "punishing" the spouse who brought about the divorce, or any other consideration. And remember that the court can change its mind at a later date if there is proof that things aren't working out. It may be impossible to banish the stomach butterflies before a custody hearing, but following your attorney's advice and the plan you worked out will get the best results in the end.

Source: DivorceSupport.com, "What the court wants in a custody plan," Oct. 2012

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