When it comes to child custody there are many different factors that are considered in nearly every decision that is made. If you are currently in the process of a divorce, you are probably concerned about where your child will live after the process is complete. You might even be concerned about your ability to make decisions regarding how the child should be raised. If you are not the biological parent of the child, you may be considering if it is even possible for you to get custody. Here we are going to discuss how child custody decisions are made, and what to think about regarding your child while going through a divorce.
Child Custody Decisions
So you are wondering how custody and visitation decisions are made. Simply put, child custody will either be decided via an agreement or by the court if contested.
To sum up, decisions involving custody are resolved in one of the following ways:
- Agreement: If the parents agree on custody and visitation, after an informal settlement negotiation (in the presence of an attorney) or an out-of-court resolution option like mediation.
- The court makes the final decision after a contested dispute.
Child Custody with unmarried parents
The rights of each parent in this situation depend largely on if both parents are legally recognized as the parents. If the parents are not married, they will have to acknowledge the father’s paternity. If the couple does not choose to do this voluntarily, the court may order a DNA test.
Both parents generally have legal rights to be in their child’s life. They usually have the right to parenting decisions as it pertains to education, religion, health, etc. It is usually best for all parties involved if the parents can come to an agreement on child custody and visitation out of court. This will allow for an agreement that is in the best interest of both parents rather than relying on a judge.
The court may choose to give both parents shared custody, but in special cases, primary custody rights are given to one parent with visitation rights given to the other. This is done when it is believed to be in the best interest of the child.
The main factors used to determine interest are:
- Stability in the child’s education, home life, and community
- Availability to see extended family
- Abuse history
- Child preference (the older the child, the more weight this has)
- Physical, emotional, educational, developmental, and special needs of the child.
Non-parent child custody
Other family members may have an interest in the well-being of the child. Non-parents who have an interest in taking custody of a child can include stepparents, grandparents, or other blood relatives like aunts and uncles.
Relatives and other individuals can file for custody rights of a child who is a minor. This, however, requires proof, showing that the current parents are unfit or have abandoned the child, or pose a threat to the child. If non-parent files for custody, a court will decide if the current parents are unfit, and whether the filing party can take care of the child.
Stepparents more often than not do NOT have legal rights or responsibilities as it pertains to the child of their spouse. In order for a stepparent to gain custody and visitation rights, they would need to adopt the child, which would require another parent to forfeit their parental rights.