The issue of child custody may arise in any of the following situations:
- when a married couple with a minor (under 18 years old) child seeks a divorce;
- when two unmarried parents of a child (under 18 years old) cannot come to an agreement about custody outside of court;
- when a parent or legal guardian is found to be unfit or dangerous for the child's wellbeing by a court or state agency; and,
- when either or both parents are absent or deceased
Physical custody addresses where the child will reside, for how long, and who will have day-to-day responsibility and right to make necessary decisions regarding the child's daily activities and wellbeing. The child will reside with either parents or guardians when joint physical custody is awarded. This does not mean that the time must be divided equally; rather, it might be an arrangement explicitly spelled out by the parties or based on stated guidelines and shared payment of costs for raising the child.
Child custody arrangements must be based upon the best interest of the child. Generally, when the parents/guardians can get along and agree to it, the court orders joint physical or joint legal custody.
When the parents/guardians cannot agree on custody, the court may award sole physical custody to one parent/guardian and supervised visitation to the other. Modification of custody arrangements may be ordered when circumstances warrant a change.