If you are involved in a disputed child custody case, it usually means that you and the child's other parent cannot come to an agreement outside of court about who will retain physical and/or legal custody of your minor child. When disputes are brought before a family court judge, several factors are used to help the judge in determining custody and these factors all have a common thread: the best interest of the child. Knowing about these factors in advance could help you to know what to expect and to be prepared for the judge's ruling:

Age: Babies and younger children were routinely placed in the custody of mothers in times past, but with the changing roles of both mothers and fathers, that occurs much less frequently. Role reversals and stay-at-home fathers are no longer novelties, and gender stereotypes have largely fallen to the wayside. That being said, judges still tend to favor mothers when babies and young children are involved, all other factors being equal. Naturally, nursing mothers are usually given physical custody for practical purposes

The Home: The parent who is awarded the family home may also be awarded custody, since judges take the best interest of the child into account. Divorce is disruptive enough for children without imposing an entirely new living situation on them. If you are not awarded the home, or if it is not an issue, you should still take care when choosing your living arrangements. The courts will look at your living situation, so ensure that it is safe and appropriate for children, and not a friend's couch in a bad neighborhood.

Relationship: Judges like to see parents who have respectful attitudes toward each other, since this behavior can be an indicator of how likely the parent is to foster a good parent-child relationship between the other parent and their child. Negative behavior, such as bad-mouthing, manipulation and a penchant for drama won't win you any points with a family court judge, especially in regard to the best interest of the child.

The Child: While some states do take the child's wishes into account, some do not. For those that do, children must be old enough to express their opinions and have a certain level of independence, such as "tweens" and teenagers. Mental health professionals who are certified to evaluate children may be added to the legal team to help judges determine custody in some cases.

Unfitness: While it may seem obvious, it's worth pointing out that parents with drug or alcohol abuse issues seldom get custody. Mental incapacity will also result in alternative custody arrangements being made, sometimes with an accommodating grandparent.

For more information about contesting child custody and proving your parental fitness to the judge, consult local divorce attorneys like Lisa M Pacione, Attorney At Law.