Borrowed from a post today on the Huffington Post Divorce Blog - I have excerpted and edited the parts I see as most relevant. Thanks to Morghan Leia Richardson for the post.
Here are the top five things that involved fathers should know before they set foot in a courtroom:
1. Fight as hard as you can to get the most time possible from the very start. . . If you want equal time (or any decent amount of time), you need to push for more from the very beginning of the case. Show the court that you understand your child's routines, needs and care. Show why the schedule you are proposing is workable, realistic and in the "best interests of the child." Do this up front, not after a temporary custody order is entered.
2. Find an attorney who gets it. . . . You are dealing with a system that has historically favored mothers' custody wishes, and is only now very slowly changing. You need an attorney who will understand your reasons and help you in presenting your best case. How do you find a lawyer who gets it? Shop around: set up consultations with attorneys to see what their approach would be and how they respond to your end goal. . . .If you feel like your lawyer is pushing you towards a bleak arrangement -- push back. Make it clear to your attorney that you are not afraid of trial and help steer them away from the internal pressures for a hasty settlement. Unless you can live with that settlement, keep pushing to see the judge.
3. Do not bring child support issues up in custody conversations. Period. No matter where you live, try to keep these issues separate. Otherwise, your reasons for spending time with your child get colored by the notion that you "just don't want to pay."
4. Draw your schedule -- literally. Put it on the calendar: a quick calendar grid labeled by the days of the week with what mom and dad each propose. This is a highly effective tool to show the judge and your spouse exactly what your visitation schedule looks like.
5. Cautiously extend the olive branch to your children's mom. At the end of the day, once the lawyers are paid, the court hearings are over and the dust settles, you and your ex will be co-parenting your children. A horrible custody battle can set a toxic model for the rest of this long-term relationship. Be reasonable on certain issues that are important to her. The long-term payoff might be a positive co-parenting relationship -- and that will directly benefit you and your kids.