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How Are Child Custody Decisions Made?

How Are Child Custody Decisions Made

Chances are you are wondering how child custody issues and decision on visitation are made during the divorce process as a parent considering divorce or one who is already involved in the divorce process. Commonly, in every aspect of the divorce, share of property, child support decision, share of finances, and spousal support or alimony is either decided by agreement between the two parents involved (regularly with the assistance of attorneys and mediators) or by the court. To be precise, custody and visitation decisions are by standard handled through one of the following ways during the process of a divorce.

Child custody decisions for married parents

  • Parents come to a consensus and agree on child custody and visitation, through:
  • Informal settlement consultations normally done with the assistance of attorneys; or

Out-of-court alternative dispute resolution arrangements such as mediation or “collaborative law”, normally through the assistance of attorneys.

The court judges on the matter and takes a decision on child custody and visitation. This is commonly done by a family court judge.

Child custody decisions for parents who are not married

When the parents of a child are not married, the laws of many states award the mother with complete physical custody except when the father takes action to be awarded custody. An unmarried father commonly cannot win custody if the mother is a good parent, but he can take steps to obtain some form of custody and visitation rights.

For unmarried parents in a custody dispute, child custody decisions are much similar to those of divorcing couples. Child custody and visitation will be resolved either by the parents involved reaching a consensus or through the decision of a family court judge.

However, unlike divorcing couples, unmarried parents will not be required to handle any probably complex and controversial divorce-related problems like division of property and payment of spousal support. Thus, the decision-making process is concentrated nearly completely on child custody. This makes the decision of child custody and visitation simpler for unmarried parents.

If unmarried parents cannot resolve the issue of child’s custody and visitation out-of-court, the case will be transferred to a family court judge for resolution. While making this decision, the family court considers the parent who is the primary caretaker.

Non-parental child custody decisions

In a number of cases individuals who are not parents of the child may apply to obtain the custody of the child. This can be relatives like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close family friends. A number of states term such applications as “non-parental” or “third-party” custody. Some states refer to this arrangement as third-party goals in such situations where “guardianship” of the child has to be obtained instead of custody.

Irrespective of the term used for this arrangement, many states have particular procedures that need to be followed by individuals applying for non-parental custody. The process normally starts when the person wanting the custody files a document known as a “nonparental custody petition” before the court. It will specify the relationship of the person with the child, the status of the child’s parents. Whether they are alive or dead and why the individual wants the custody of the child or why it should be granted to him or her.


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