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Child custody disputes can be overwhelmingly emotional -- but parents need to do everything they can to check their emotions at the door when they start negotiations. If you don't, you may accidentally turn the judge or mediator against you.

Here are the most important things that every parent should realize before a custody hearing:

1. You are being judged

Everything you say and do is being judged, including how you talk about your child's other parent.

If the other parent has issues, let your attorney bring those out. You don't do yourself any favors when you try to convince the judge or mediator that the other parent is a horrible person. Your comments and insinuations say more about you than they do the other party -- and may cause the judge to question if you can facilitate a healthy relationship between your children and their other parent.

2. Your issues with the other parent's style are unimportant

The odds are good that you and the other party's parenting styles don't mesh -- but the judge doesn't care about most of the things that matter to either of you.

For example, if you're a believer in schedules and routines but your ex-spouse is the permissive type, that's not really important to the judge. The fact that you believe in healthy breakfasts and your ex-spouse is in the "let them eat Poptarts" camp also doesn't matter. Those aren't major issues to the judge.

3. Your children's come first

Your children's need to have both parents in their lives and, absent unusual circumstances, that's what the court wants to enable. Until your children are grown, the court will expect you to put your own needs second.

Flexibility is important when you're in a custody battle. Your willingness to tolerate the uncomfortable for the sake of your children will be noticed (and be something in your favor).

The best child custody resolutions usually come about when both parties do their best to keep the child's needs -- not their own -- in mind.


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