For most parents, a key question when discussing divorce is whether or not it is the best decision for their children. Yes, having both parents take an active role in their children’s lives is valuable, but if you and your spouse fight regularly, splitting up may be better for you and your children. Divorce is an option to carefully consider, as it can bring about a lot of changes that your children may struggle with. One of the most common questions from parents going through a divorce is the question of custody. Specifically, parents want to know how custody is decided and who can get custody.

How Custody Decisions Are Made

During divorce proceedings, efforts will be made on both sides to help you come to amicable agreements as much as possible before going to court. This includes everything from determining how to divvy up shared accounts to what you will do with a house you jointly own and even who will keep the couch. A divorce lawyer can mediate discussions and help you draw up an agreement if you can decide how to split everything amicably. If you disagree, you may both need the representation of a divorce lawyer to help you arbitrate the discussion.

Custody decisions are made in the same way that most of your shared assets will be divided – with one key difference. Whatever custody decisions are agreed upon between both parties will be subject to a final ruling from a judge. This is to ensure that whatever is decided, whether you agree or not, is in the best interest of the child/children. Many times, that simply provides a legal confirmation of whatever decision has already been agreed to. However, in instances that both parties cannot come to an agreement, the court will provide the final decision. In some instances, the court may determine that a custody agreement is not in the best interest of the child or children.

Determining Custody

There are a surprising variety of options for child custody. Most commonly, custody is either split between both parents or given to one parent. The latter may or may not include visitation rights for the parent who does not have custody. However, if the courts find that parental custody is not in the best interest of the child/children, a close relative or other non-parent person may be given custody instead. This situation is called third-party custody.

Third-party custody generally occurs when parents are not fit to retain their parental rights, according to the courts. When this determination has been made, custody goes to grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, or a non-relative who has an established relationship with the child/children. Third-party custody situations often occur when one or both parents is found to be abusive, endangers the child/children, or has abandoned the child/children. In many of these instances, a relative or family friend has stepped in to provide care; the courts often find that person to be a de facto custodian and award them legal custody.

Third-Party Custody Considerations

Third-party custody can come about in a few different ways. First, if either parent is incapable of caring for the child/children or otherwise found to be unfit, the courts will find a third-party custodian to award custody. The court will also consider petitions from a relative, godparent, family friend, or neighbor who feels the child/children will be neglected, abused, or otherwise endangered if custody is given to one or both parents. Third, if both parents request a third-party custodian, the courts will take that into consideration. In addition, if the child/children are old enough, the courts will also take their wishes into account before a decision is made.

The question of custody and third-party custodians can get complicated, however. For instance, if one of the biological parents has died, the deceased’s parents – the child’s grandparents – may petition for custody. Or, if a child has been raised by a biological parent and a step-parent, the step-parent may request custody during divorce proceedings. In more complex cases like these, it is important to work with an attorney who specializes in family law to help you navigate the proceedings.

What To Do After Third-Party Custody Decisions

Whatever decision has been made about your child’s or children’s custody, the situation can often be changed. If you feel custody has not been awarded correctly, you may be able to petition the courts to alter custody with the assistance of a family attorney. However, keep in mind that the courts will be most concerned with what is in the best interest of the child/children, not just what parents or other interested parties want.

If you have questions about divorce, child custody, or other family law concerns in Columbus, let the O'Keefe Family Law team help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.