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The Basics of Child Custody in 10 Minutes

Child custody

Researching child custody law can leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed. And you’re already feeling stressed and nervous about trying to find the best custody agreement for your child.

Well it’s time to take a deep breath and reset. You can learn everything you need to know about a child custody case in just ten minutes.

Forget what you’ve heard from friends and read in celebrity gossip magazines. Everything you need to know about the basics of child custody is located in this article.

Keep reading and start learning.


Types of Custody

There are two main types of custody – physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where a child will live after parents separate. Physical custody can be sole custody (just one parent) or joint custody (both parents).

With joint physical custody, the child will live at home at two locations and share their time as agreed by the parents and the court.

Legal custody refers to the ability of the parent or parents to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. These decisions might include education or medical care. Legal custody can also be joint (between both parents) or sole (just one parent).

So, to summarize – there is physical and legal custody and both can be either joint or sole forms of custody.

But what about cases in which a person who is not the child’s parent seeks custody? This is called guardianship or third-party custody. In some cases a friend or family member will petition for guardianship because it is in the best interest of the child. A judge will grant  third-party custody based on all the facts.

A Custody Agreement

In child custody cases, parents have to reach a custody agreement. This is a document that outlines the rules to custody and visitation.

Parents can reach an agreement informally (between each other), with a mediator, or in a court. Regardless of which option you choose, a child custody lawyer or family lawyer will be involved.

If parents want to meet and make plans without a lawyer present they can do that. But in order to finalize the agreement and make it official, a lawyer will need to review it.

In a mediation, parents meet with an objective party to talk about the terms of the child custody case. The mediator can ask questions and help the parents reach an agreement using compromises. The mediator is responsible for submitting the final custody agreement to the court.

In some cases, a child custody case is heard in a courtroom. This happens when parents cannot easily agree or compromise on the terms of the custody agreement.  A judge hears from both parents and sometimes the child, depending on his or her age.

In summary, custody agreements can happen informally, through mediation, or in a court room. Regardless of the situation, a child custody lawyer or lawyers will be involved.

How Custody Cases are Decided

If parents cannot agree on terms of the child custody agreement outside of court, a judge will have to weigh in. a judge’s decision depends on a few different factors. So if you want to know how to win child custody in a court case, read the sections below to learn what judge’s consider during these cases.

Age of Child

In child custody cases with infants or very young children, a judge may be more likely to grant custody to the mother. Newborns or babies that are breastfeeding may be better cared for by the mother due to early bonding.

For older children and teenagers, the decision may come down to other factors.

Parent Living Situation

A judge will likely ask both parents about their living situations. If one parent is currently living in the established “family home” with the child, they are more likely to get custody.

Parents that can demonstrate a safe and healthy physical space for a child may be granted joint custody or visitation. However, if a parent is living with friends or relatives or in a non-permanent residence, a judge is unlikely to grant custody at that time.

Child Preference

Starting at about four or five years old, a judge may interview the child about where they want to live. If the child expresses a strong preference to live with one parent, that could influence a judge’s decision.

Child Relationship with Parent

When a judge is considering the best interest of the child they will want to know about the child’s relationship with both parents. In some cases, a stay-at-home parent has greater likelihood of custody because they have already shown they are the primary caretaker and therefore have a close relationship with the child.

Historic behavior and parenting will show a judge what type of relationship the child has with each of his or her parents.


Visitation rights are established and documented in a custody agreement. Neither party can break the visitation rules unless there are extreme circumstances such as fear or harm or neglect.

Grandparents, step-parents, and other relatives may also request visitation. The laws regarding non-parent visitation vary between states. These visitation guidelines can be written into a custody agreement if the parents feel that it is important to do so.

Child Support

If custody is granted to one parent, the other parent may be required to pay child support. If parents are sharing custody, child support payments may be calculated based on how much time each parent spends with the child.

Deciding who pays and how much can be tricky. It’s best to get advice from a lawyer when arranging child support payments.

Child Custody Summarized

Hopefully you are feeling more confident about your knowledge of child custody cases. There are different types of custody and different ways to reach custody agreements.

A custody agreement outlines visitation rules and child support payments. This agreement is a detailed summary of the decisions made by the parents and the court regarding child custody.

If you have more questions about child custody or are ready for a free consultation with a lawyer, contact us today.

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