When parents get divorced, the divorce decree will specify with whom the divorcing couple’s children will live (and circumstances under which the other parent will visit with the children). Often, parents work out these arrangements between themselves, either completely voluntarily or with the assistance of their attorneys or a mediator. When they’re unable to reach a decision, or when unmarried parents are unable to agree on who gets custody, the court may intervene and make a decision based on the child’s best interests.
If divorcing parents can come to an agreement outside of court on custody of their children, and they are able to arrange a suitable living and visitation schedule, then there is no set answer as to who will get custody. The parents may agree to a true joint custody arrangement in which their children split time living with each parent, and agree to work together on major decisions related to the children’s upbringing and welfare. Or, the parents may agree that the children live primarily with one parent, but there will be a visitation schedule for the other parent.
While child custody and visitation issues arise most often as part of a divorce, parents going through a divorce are not only people who might be involved in a child custody situation. Custody disputes can arise between unmarried parents and grandparents who can seek to enforce their rights to visitation with the grandchildren.