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Who's going to win my child custody dispute?

It's frightening to think about going a night without your children at home with you, but if you're in throes of a contentious child custody dispute, that's a reality you may need to face. Depending on how your child custody case ends, you may be lucky to receive full physical custody -- meaning your children live with you full-time -- or you might become the non-custodial parent who only has visitation rights.

It's difficult to predict exactly how a court will decide a child custody disagreement, but the following information may give you a clue as to what your end-results could be.

Everything revolves around the best interests of your child

The parent who aligns him- or herself with the best interests of the child -- and not his or her self-interests -- is the one who will prevail in a child custody hearing. This may require letting go of one's ego and emotional hurt and pain, but in the end, everyone will benefit. To determine the best interests of the child in a custody dispute, courts will evaluate the parents to determine which one -- if not both -- will serve as the best caregiver.

Here's how courts will evaluate the parents in this regard:

Which parent was the primary caretaker? This question is of utmost importance. In situations where one spouse assumed the lion's share of the caretaking duties, this parent will usually be the one who has the most sway in a child custody dispute. If push comes to shove, it's often the primary caregiver who receives full physical custody of the children.

Proving that you are the primary caretaker involves the production of evidence that you prepared meals for the children, bathed the children, read them bedtime stories, took them shopping, took them to doctors' appointments and school, attended sporting events, engaged in recreational activities with your kids and participated in other activities.

What is the mental and physical health of both parents? If a parent is physically or mentally ill, he or she may not be able to serve as the most optimal caretaker for the children.

Does the child have special needs? The unique characteristics of the child, especially with regard to any special needs, could affect the court's child custody decisions.

Can the parent offer a stable home environment? Imagine that Parent A has a four-bedroom home, is sober and has a good job, while Parent B lives in a studio apartment and has been bouncing around from job to job for years, with significant periods of unemployment. Clearly, Parent A provides a more stable home environment and the court will favor him or her.

Are you having trouble determining child custody in your divorce?

There are other important factors the court will take into consideration, but the above issues are some of the most important. Still, since it's difficult to know exactly how a court will decide a particular child custody matter, parents may want to see if they can work with each other to resolve their disagreements in a peaceful out-of-court child custody settlement.

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