Skip to main content
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

How to Get Custody

There are many different scenarios in which a parent or close relative will want to get custody of their child. Child custody hearings can be emotionally difficult because the stakes are so high for everyone involved. Child custody decisions are generally supposed to be made in accordance with the child's best interests, which may or may not correlate with one or both parent's wishes.

So, while parents may work out a custody arrangement on their own, any agreements must still be approved by the court. If you are involved in a custody dispute, you should get familiar with the process and try to understand just how these decisions are made. Contact a child custody attorney in your area for help dealing with a custody dispute.

Negotiating Child Custody Arrangements Informally

In the best-case scenario, parents will work together through informal negotiations — with or without the assistance of attorneys — to come up with a custody arrangement and parenting plan. Once the parties have arrived at an agreement, it should be put into writing (referred to as either a "settlement agreement" or "custody agreement," depending on your state).

If the parents are able to agree on the terms and the court decides the terms are in the child's best interest, then the court will generally approve the plan without further hearings.

Using Alternative Dispute Resolution for Child Custody Decisions

Another way to avoid a courtroom showdown when confronted with a child custody dispute is to use an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method, which includes:

  • Mediation
  • Collaborative family law
  • Arbitration

The advantage of using ADR over a traditional courtroom setting is that it tends to be much less adversarial, with the goal of compromise rather than simply determining "winners" and "losers." In order for ADR to truly work, the parents must be willing to work together in order to reach a solution that's best for the child.

Mediation and collaborative family law are the most commonly used forms of ADR for child custody cases. In mediation, the parties to a given dispute discuss the situation, propose solutions, and then devise a plan on their own through the help of a neutral third-party mediator (although attorneys may be present).

Collaborative family law is similar to mediation, with a few important differences. While the goal is to create a "win-win" situation for the parties, as in mediation, neither party may go to court. If court action is threatened, then the attorneys are automatically disqualified and the process is over.

What Is a Parenting Agreement?

When the parties in a child custody dispute have hashed out their differences, compromised, and agreed to a set of rules for custody and visitation, they draft a parenting agreement. This often involves help and input from attorneys, even if it is agreed to outside of the courtroom. The parenting agreement may also be referred to as a "custody agreement" or "settlement agreement."

Once this is written and signed by the parties, it can then be ordered by the court after a hearing. Parenting agreements typically include the following:

Many states have statutes or court rules that require other particular provisions to be included in the agreement. This is another reason the assistance of an attorney is helpful for drafting a strong parenting agreement.

The Child Custody Hearing

Most child custody hearings are relatively informal. The judge will ask each party several questions to determine whether or not they understand the terms of the parenting agreement and whether any disputes remain. If the parties have come up with a valid parenting agreement, it will be finalized into a court order. If the parties have not reached an agreement, or are unwilling to work together, the judge will decide who gets custody.

Legal Advice for Parenting Agreements

It is important to have a parenting agreement to provide clear guidance for child custody. An experienced attorney can help you negotiate an agreement and represent you in any custody disputes. Get help today and find an experienced family law attorney near you.

Learn About How to Get Custody

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Custody & child visitation cases are emotional, and a lawyer can seek the best outcome
  • A lawyer can help protect your children's interests
  • Lawyers can seek to secure visitation rights

Get tailored advice and ask a lawyer questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options