Answers to Parents' Top 20 Questions About Child Custody

Child Custody Information for Parents Seeking Custody

The right child custody information can help you prepare for your case and ultimately win child custody.  Here, you'll find parents' top 20 questions about child custody, with links to full-length features to help you approach a child custody hearing with confidence.

  • 01 of 20
    Family holding hands and walking in sunny woods
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    Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions on behalf of your child, whereas physical custody refers to where the child lives.  Technically, a parent can have legal custody without having physical custody.  Consider all of the child custody options available to you, including shared parenting and bird’s nest custody, before making a decision about what type of custody you want to pursue.

  • 02 of 20

    Some states expect unmarried mothers to file for custody, while other states presume that unmarried mothers automatically have custody of their children.  Read up on the child custody laws in your state to find out whether you need to officially file for custody.

  • 03 of 20

    Child custody laws differ from state to state. Therefore, any parent who wishes to file for child custody or defend his or her claim to child custody will need to become familiar with the child custody laws in the state where the child resides.

  • 04 of 20

    A lot of factors go into a court’s decision about which parent should be awarded child custody. Generally, those factors include the parents’ wishes and ability to provide for the child, in addition to the current child custody arrangement and the child’s existing relationship with each parent.

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  • 05 of 20

    You should also know that the courts will consider whether each parent will be supportive of the child’s ongoing relationship with the other parent, in addition to the child’s age, any special needs, medical needs, and other pertinent factors.

  • 06 of 20

    The courts want every decision they make to reflect what is best for the child, and each state defines it’s own standards for defining what the “best” or most ideal situation should look like.  While these standards do vary from state to state, family courts generally presume that it is in a child’s best interests to maintain relationships with both parents to whatever extent possible, particularly if the child has enjoyed a close relationship with both parents up to this point.

  • 07 of 20

    In most cases, it is advisable for you to at least participate in a free consultation with a lawyer before making this decision. If cost is a concern, contact Legal Aid in your state or participate in a free legal clinic offered through a nearby law school.

  • 08 of 20

    Filing for child custody pro se means representing yourself in court. Even if you’ve been through this process before, it is generally advisable to seek the counsel of a qualified family law attorney, especially if you know that your ex-spouse or ex-partner has sought legal representation. Another option is to have a lawyer assist you with the necessary paperwork and help you prepare for representing yourself in court.

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  • 09 of 20

    Many states require temporary child custody orders during the period of time between a couple’s separation and divorce. However, there are also other circumstances in which a temporary child custody order is advisable, such as a parent’s illness, hospitalization, or military service. In such cases, it is advisable for parents to set up temporary guardianship with the child’s other parent or with a trusted friend or relative.

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    If you’re able to work out a reasonable child custody agreement without the courts, you should still work with a lawyer to have the paperwork drawn up, signed, and filed with the courts.

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    The main distinction is that an agreement reached through mediation is non-binding in court, whereas an agreement reached through arbitration is binding. However, both processes are generally preferable to an adversarial child custody battle.

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    Mediation has been helpful to a lot of couples who were initially engaged in an adversarial, difficult child custody battle. For most families, talking with a qualified mediator is worth the time and effort, and often allows a reasonable compromise to be reached more quickly.

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  • 13 of 20

    Any parent going through an international child custody battle should strongly consider working with an attorney who has international child custody experience. He or she can assist you in leveraging the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA) to ensure that your child is not vulnerable to parental abduction, as well as communicating through the most appropriate international legal channels on your behalf.

  • 14 of 20

    Some states lay out a specific set of circumstances for acceptable child custody modifications in their child custody laws. However, some of the general reasons why courts might consider a request to modify child custody include relocation, safety, the death of a parent, and other legitimate causes for reconfiguring an existing child custody order.

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    You should work with your child custody lawyer to devise a plan for each court appearance. The more you can prepare up front, the more confident you will appear in court. Remember, too, that little things like how you dress for court and your use of proper courtroom etiquette will influence the judge’s impression of you as a parent.

  • 16 of 20

    First, remember that it’s your relationship with your child that is the most important thing you want the evaluator to notice. So don’t let yourself get so nervous that your obvious love and concern for your child doesn’t shine through. In addition, keep in mind that appearances do matter. Make sure that your home is clean and orderly, and try your best to be yourself while answering the evaluator’s questions.

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  • 17 of 20

    Some states require parenting plans, while others do not. Read the child custody laws for your state to find out whether your state requires parents to file a written parenting plan in family court. You should also consider writing a parenting plan, even if it’s not required, because it will force you and your ex to make thoughtful decisions about how you plan to collaborate on raising your children together.

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    Yes, the courts will take into account a child’s special needs, particularly where medical and/or developmental issues make it difficult for parents to share custody. However, the courts will still want to see that the parents are willing to cooperate with one another and ensure that the child is able to enjoy an ongoing relationship with both parents.

  • 19 of 20

    The courts are not permitted to discriminate against fathers in court. However, there are still many cases where the mother is given primary custody because up until the divorce she served as the primary caregiver. Fathers who wish to win child custody should prepare to present themselves as the better parent without coming across to the judge as bashing the other parent or attempting to limit the child’s relationship with her.

  • 20 of 20

    The courts are reluctant to award child custody to any parent who has perpetrated domestic violence on the child or on other members of the family. Therefore, they will carefully investigate any and all allegations of domestic violence before making a child custody determination. Parents who’ve been wrongly accused should seek legal representation and cooperate with all aspects of the investigation.