Determining child custody can be complicated when families separate. Further complications often arise when someone other than a non-biological parent seeks custody. A non-biological parent may be a grandparent, sibling, family friend, new spouse, or another family member. The custody of a child is determined by each family’s individual situation.
Aside from death, the main reasons for disputing child custody are divorce, unmarried parenting, abuse or abandonment, criminal activity, and parental agreement.
When couples divorce, the child custody and visitation rights can be determined either by the parents or the court. If the parents can reach a mutual agreement on the parenting plan then there will be an informal settlement negotiation with attorneys. There may or may not be a mediation. If the parents cannot agree than the case will be presented to a family court judge who will decide upon an arrangement for them.
Most state laws declare child custody to the biological mother unless the father seeks custody. It is often more difficult for an unmarried father to obtain full child custody, but he can take steps to gain partial custody and visitation. Just like in the circumstances of divorcing parents, custody will either be agreed upon by the parents or determined by a judge in family court. The main difference is that unmarried parents often have a simpler case because custody of the child is the only factor to be determined. Divorcing parents must often also discuss the division of property and spousal support.
Abuse or Abandonment
Courts are more flexible with child custody agreements pertaining legal guardians that are not the biological parents when there is a presence of abuse or abandonment. This includes substance abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect. In these cases, another family member often seeks custody of the child so that the child does not have to be placed in social services. It is best for the child to be placed with a familiar family member or friend for stability and comfort instead dealing with the risks of foster care.
If one parent is incarcerated or convicted of certain crimes, the other parent will gain full child custody. Crimes that will raise concern are those that are violent or inappropriate in nature that pose a threat to children. If both parents are incarcerated or guilty of crimes, than the child custody will be given to a close family member or friend. Cases of criminal activity are regarded in the same way as cases of abuse or abandonment. Stability and comfort are the main priorities when the courts decide where to place a child.
Courts generally allow parents to give custody or extended visitation rights to a friend or family member if they wish to do so. Circumstances for such situations could be related to health or financial issues. Some parents may be simply providing rights to a step-parent or sibling as an extra precaution or for convenience.