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Co-Parenting Without Court

Who gets custody of a child based on various parenting scenarios and relationships and tips on co-parenting without court.

Co-parenting without getting the family court system involved is possible, but in some cases, it may not be the best course of action. The first question to tackle is who has custody of the child? Without court, the primary custodial parent is left to make most decisions regarding the child, unless a parenting plan is in place.

co-parenting for unwed parents

Who gets custody if you are not married?

If a mother and father are not married to each other or anyone else when the child is born, and the father does not go to the court to ask for custody or visitation, then the mother has sole legal custody of the child in most states.

A mother in this situation may feel comfortable negotiating an amicable parenting agreement outside of the courts. In this case, she has sole custody of the child, so she retains all rights. The mother has a say-so in where the child lives, where the child spends holidays, where the child goes to school, what medical treatment the child receives, etc.

However, if the parenting agreement is handled outside of the court system, there is no legal recourse in the event of a violation. The mother remains solely responsible for the care and upbringing of the child in the eyes of the law, despite your parenting agreement.

co-parenting for separated parents

Who gets custody if you get a separation?

If a mother and father are married to one another when the child is born, they share equal custody rights to the child. Custody does not change until the court issues a custody order. So, if the parents choose to live apart from one another, but not file for a legal separation or divorce, they both retain shared custody.

When separation is amicable between parents, sometimes they choose to work out their parenting plan without going through the courts. However, problems can arise if one parent feels the other parent is not sticking to the parenting agreement or if one parent wants to get remarried. Remarriage isn’t a possibility until the parents dissolve their current marriage. Enforcement of a parenting agreement isn’t possible until a court issues a custody order.

co-parenting for divorced parents

Who gets custody if you get divorced?

If a mother and father want to divorce, they will have to go through some legal proceedings, but they don’t have to choose a full-blown trial. Divorcing parents can choose alternative ways to divide assets and decide on parenting agreements, such as mediation or arbitration.

Custody agreements and parenting plans are filed through the court legally. The court issues the divorce decree so parents can legally remarry, but negotiations between parents will take place outside of the courtroom, in private, without a public trial or lawyers. A trained, neutral, third-party decision-maker will help the parents work out the details of their divorce together. Read more about the benefits of family law arbitration.

Making changes to the parenting agreement

If you make a parenting agreement through the courts, but then want to make changes without going back to court, you are allowed to. However, if a disagreement arises down the line, the courts can only make a decision based on the wording of the original parenting agreement. Your modifications, even if you’ve been successfully following them for some time, are not legal or binding.

Learn more about how to make a parenting plan and whether you need a lawyer for a custody agreement on our Parenting Resources page.

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