How to approach your child custody question depends on your personal situation. Most people grapple with parental responsibilities during divorce. But child custody concerns can come up at other times, too—for example, for unmarried parents or for grandparents or other family members concerned for a child.
To start, here are some important tips to keep in mind:
The kids come first. Custody fights create lasting trauma for children. The very best way to handle a custody fight is to avoid it altogether. Do all you can to work things out with your children's other parent. There are many ways to get help with this: from trusted friends and family members to professional negotiators or mediators.
Consider child custody mediation. A professional mediator can help you work out the parenting plan that's best for everyone. In fact, most family law courts require you to see a mediator before you can see a judge.
Find your local family court. The court can connect you to many supportive resources, including mediation services, court form, self-help resources, referrals to free or low-cost legal help, and more. To find your local court, visit our court information page and enter your zip code.
Get legal help if you need it. While it is possible to handle your own custody case, you may find that the support of a good lawyer goes a long way toward preserving your time and your sanity. If money is an issue, you may be able to find low-cost alternatives.
Be prepared. The outcome of your custody dispute can depend on how respectfully and thoroughly you handle the process, right down to details like showing up on time, completing forms with care, paying fees on time, and knowing what to expect during mediation sessions and at court hearings.