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Easing child custody disputes

Determining custody of children may be one of the most emotional and disputed parts of a divorce.

Taking a reasonable approach to child custody, however, can help resolve these disputes.

Absent compelling circumstances, such as abuse or dangerous conduct, courts believe that both parents should be involved in the children's life. A judge usually prefers the involvement of both parents in important decisions on their children's behalf. Parenting time should ensure that the children have frequent and substantive access to both parents.

Parents who are absent because of work should still stay involved with their children's lives. This includes being copied on school emails, going to athletic events, picking up the children and attending conferences. With email and texting, there is no reason that parents cannot readily communicate about the children and their activities.

There are ways to turn a court against a parent. Judges react negatively to parents whose resentment toward their former spouse hampers their cooperation. Withholding contact with the other parent is counter-productive.

Courts are disinterested about extra-marital affairs. It may show bad judgment but does not mean that the other spouse is a poor parent.

Negotiating a settlement, if possible, is better for the children and everyone else. It helps keep the children away from courts and saves time and money. Parents have more latitude to negotiate a creative settlement that meets the family's needs. Otherwise, they must comply with a court order from a judge who has only a passing knowledge of the specific children and their needs.

Remembering that the other party is still the father or mother of the couple's children should generate respect and will help their children. Demeaning the other parent can backfire in litigation and, more importantly, harms the children.

Finally, friends may be well-meaning but are not experts, are restricted by their own experiences and are generally unaware of the judges and lawyers involved in the case. A qualified family law attorney can provide options, negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement and help assure that rights are protected in negotiations and court proceedings.

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