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How Child Custody Decisions Are Made

How Child Custody Decisions Are Made

In any situation where child custody rights are at issue, a number of key questions are raised. If you are going through a divorce, you will want to know whether your child will live primarily with you, and if not, whether will you will be able to make important decisions as to how your child will be raised. If you are a close relative or family friend of a child who is not your own, you may be wondering if getting custody of that child is even a possibility.

Answers to these questions are at the root of most custody situations, but for parents and others without significant experience with child custody and the legal system, a fundamental concern is: How are custody decisions made? Following is a brief discussion in response to that question.

Divorce and Child Custody Decisions

If you are a parent considering divorce, or if you are already involved in the process, you are probably wondering how child custody and visitation issues are resolved in a divorce. In general, like all aspects of a divorce — including property division, child support, financial division, and spousal support (alimony) — child custody and visitation will either be decided by agreement between the divorcing couple (usually with the help of attorneys and mediators) or by the court. More specifically, custody and visitation decisions are typically resolved in one of two main ways in a divorce:

  1. Parents reach an agreement on child custody and visitation, as a result of:
    • Informal settlement negotiations (usually with the help of attorneys); or
    • Out-of-court alternative dispute resolution proceedings like mediation or “collaborative law” (usually with the help of attorneys).
  1. Court makes a decision on child custody and visitation (usually a family court judge).

 

Unmarried Parents and Child Custody Decisions

When a child’s parents are unmarried, the statutes of most states require that the mother be awarded sole physical custody unless the father takes action to be awarded custody. An unwed father often cannot win custody over a mother who is a good parent, but he can take steps to secure some form of custody and visitation rights.

For unmarried parents involved in a custody dispute, options for the custody decision are largely the same as those for divorcing couples — child custody and visitation will be resolved either through agreement between the child’s parents, or by a family court judge’s decision. But, unlike divorcing couples, unmarried parents will not need to resolve any potentially complicated (and contentious) divorce-related issues such as division of property and payment of spousal support, so the decision-making process is focused almost exclusively on child custody. For this reason, resolution of custody and visitation may be more simplified for unmarried parents.

If unmarried parents do not reach a child custody and visitation agreement out-of-court, the matter will go before a family court judge for resolution.

Especially when making child custody decisions involving unmarried parents, the family court’s primary consideration will be to identify the child’s “primary caretaker.”

Non-Parental Child Custody Decisions

In some cases, people other than a child’s parents may wish to obtain custody — including relatives like grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close family friends. Some states label such a situation as “non-parental” or “third-party” custody. (Note: Other states refer to the third-party’s goal in these situations as obtaining “guardianship” of the child, rather than custody.)

Whatever the label, most states have specific procedures that must be followed by people seeking non-parental custody. The process usually begins when the person seeking custody files a document called a “non-parental custody petition” (or similarly-titled petition) with the court, which sets out the person’s relationship to the child, the status of the child’s parents (living, dead, whereabouts unknown), and the reasons the person is seeking (and should be granted) custody. Usually, a copy of this petition must also be delivered to the child’s parents, if they are living and their whereabouts are known.

Free Consultation with Child Custody Lawyer

If you have a question about child custody question or if you need to collect back child support, please call Ascent Law at (801) 676-5506. We will aggressively fight for you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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Michael Anderson

About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.