Divorcing couples aren't the only ones who have to deal with child custody issues. Nowadays, many couples decide to have children before getting married or decide not to get married at all. When unmarried couples with children separate, they will have to determine who the child should live with and who will be making decisions involving the child.
Just like with divorcing couples, unmarried couples can attempt to come to an understanding regarding child custody and parenting time issues on their own, but if they are unable to reach an agreement, they will have to appear in court and a judge will make the decision for them. Unmarried parents do not have to worry about divorce issues like property division and spousal support, so reaching a final decision regarding custody can sometimes be less complicated.
In recent years there has been a trend towards courts awarding joint physical custody to encourage both parents to play an active role in the upbringing of their children. However, joint custody does not work in all cases.
When a court is deciding what kind of custody arrangement to award, a number of factors may be considered. These factors may include the care giving roles and responsibilities of the parties prior to the break-up of the relationship, the employment situation and work schedule of each party, the mental health and stability of each party, any special medical or educational needs of the child, and whether the parties have other people in their household including persons they are in a relationship with or other children that they have to care for. Whether a couple is unmarried or married, the court should always focus on the needs of the child and what is in the best interest of the child when determining child custody arrangements.
Source: FindLaw, "Custody and Visitation in Non-Divorce Cases," accessed on July 18, 2017