Child Custody Laws in Delaware

Mother giving piggy back ride to daughter

Learning about child custody laws in your state is an important part of getting yourself through the process of creating your custody agreement. If you walk into your court appointment completely uninformed about the process about to take place, you run the risk of not fully taking advantage of the situation and being granted an outcome that you are happy with. Read on to learn more about Delaware child custody laws and what to expect.

Overview of child custody laws in Delaware

Delaware child custody laws see parents as joint natural custodians of their child. This means that neither parent is automatically favored by Delaware law as being more fit for custody. When one or both parents wish to legally separate or divorce, they are each able to file a petition asking the court for custody to be awarded to either of them. Once a petition is filed in Family Court, a Preliminary Injunction is served on both the parent who filed the petition and the other parent who must respond to it. The Preliminary Injunction orders both parents to maintain the child's permanent residence in Delaware while the proceedings are pending (unless permission is granted by the other parent or the court), and it also orders the whole family to take a parenting education class. After the respondent has been served with a summons to court and a copy of the petition, it is possible that the parents will be referred to mediation before heading to court. While this is common practice, there are cases where mediation may be bypassed and a court date will be assigned immediately such as in a case where domestic violence is an issue or a no contact order is already in place. At mediation, both parents will work with their mediator on formulating a custody agreement and contact schedule. If parents are able to come to an agreement on custody during mediation, they will complete and sign a consent order right away. If parents cannot come to a full agreement on the petition and on a temporary contact schedule for the child, the mediator will at least define which issues parents cannot agree on and recommend a contact schedule. This schedule will be put in place until the parents have their date in court. 

When determining the child custody arrangement, Delaware courts and mediators will hold the child's best interests as the deciding factor. A couple of the factors used in determining the child's best interests include the wishes of both parents and the child; the relationship between the child and each parent, siblings and other family members; and if there is a history of criminal activity or domestic violence involving all parties. 

Types of child custody arrangements recognized in Delaware

Delaware child custody laws typically favor a joint custody arrangement to be put in place, unless the courts have determined that such an arrangement would cause more harm than good to the child. Both legal custody and residential placement must be decided. Legal custody will either be sole or joint, meaning that either only one parent or both parents will be designated as the legal custodian(s) of the child and will be responsible for making important decisions concerning things like the child's education or health care. Even if sole legal custody is granted to one parent, the non-custodial parent still holds the right to receive information pertaining to the child such as information about thinks like school events and other activities, or details regarding medical treatments. While legal custody is typically joint or sole, residential placement tends to differ between cases quite a bit. In Delaware, a preferred residential placement arrangement will fit in with each parent's personal work schedules while also giving each parent ample time to bond with their child. If factors such as domestic violence or mental illness are involved, then the residential arrangement may call for the child to permanently reside with one parent while having supervised visitation with the other parent. Every case is unique, but the best interests of the child will always play a huge part of deciding what arrangement is the right fit for the family.

This information is not to be used as legal advice. Please consult an attorney or a family law professional in your area for more information and legal guidance. For family law resources in your state, check out our resources page for Delaware. In any case, the OurFamilyWizard website is devoted to helping families to manage their custody arrangements by providing a variety of secure online tools for everything from tracking a shared parenting schedule to making reimbursement requests. Help your whole family to more easily stay in the loop by signing up for an account today. 


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.