If you're a parent, your children are important to you, so it's perfectly understandable if you're feeling anxious about the initial child custody hearing.
The more you know about what you can expect to happen, the easier it is to prepare yourself for court. Here are a few of the most important things to remember early on in a custody hearing:
1. The judge's primary concern is what's best for the children
Your needs and your spouse's needs take a backseat to the needs of your children. It's important to understand that the judge is going to be evaluating everything you say in relation to how it positively (or negatively) could affect your children.
2. You should have an idea of what kind of custody you want
These days, the courts are leaning heavily toward shared custody whenever possible. This isn't the most convenient arrangement for either parent, generally, but the courts feel that it is beneficial for children to have roughly equal time with each parent. If you want something different, be ready to state what you'd like to see happen and why -- at least briefly. You'll be given an opportunity to make your case later.
3. You need to demonstrate the ability to care for your children
Be prepared to reassure the judge that you have adequate means to support your children financially and emotionally. You may need to ask for support, and that's fine -- but be ready to provide proof of your finances on demand. In addition, be ready to reassure the judge that you are willing to cooperate with the other parent and foster a healthy relationship with the children.
Above all else, remember that a custody hearing is not a divorce hearing. No matter what the other parent was like as a spouse, keep those issues separate from how he or she acts as a parent. Confusing the two issues will leave the judge with a poor impression of you -- not the other parent.
An attorney can help you prepare your child custody case and give you more advice that's specific to your situation.