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Child Custody Information

Answers to Parents' Top 20 Questions About Child Custody

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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.

1. What’s the difference between legal custody and physical custody?

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.

2. Does an unmarried mother need to file for custody?

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.

3. What are the child custody laws in my state?

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.

4. How do the courts determine who gets custody?

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.

5. What other factors do the courts consider when they determine child custody?

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.

6. What do the courts mean by “the best interests of the child?”

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.

7. Do I need a child custody lawyer?

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.

8. Should I file for child custody pro se?

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.

9. Should I seek a temporary child custody order?

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.

10. What if my ex and I are able to reach a private child custody agreement?

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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