Different Types of Child Custody

One of the most difficult aspects of planning a divorce, or putting the pieces back together after a breakup, is what will happen with the children. The distinctions between the types of custody can be extremely important in determining your future with your children. The following information explains the different types of custody and their implications.

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Physical custody

Physical custody means that the parent has the right to have the child live with him or her. There are two types of physical custody: joint, meaning that the child can stay with both the mother and the father for significant periods of time, and sole, which means that the child lives with one parent primarily and the other parent has limited visitation or custody rights. A common example is for a mother to have sole physical custody, so the child lives with her and only sees the father for certain weekends and holidays, or for a few hours at a time.

When is sole physical custody granted?

Sole physical custody can be granted in divorce proceedings when one parent can be proven to be unfit; for example, he or she may struggle with drug or alcohol abuse or financial problems. Sole physical custody can also be awarded to one parent if the other is involved with a person who can be proven to be an unfit parent.

Even in cases of sole physical custody, generally the legal custody will still be awarded to both parents.

Joint physical custody logistics

When both parents have been awarded physical custody, they will work together to create a joint custody arrangement (also called a parenting arrangement) which they will present in court for a judge to approve. This arrangement takes into account the parents' work schedules and commitments as well as the child's school schedule and any additional activities such as extracurriculars, sports, or other commitments. Joint physical custody is generally awarded only to parents who live near each other, in which case, it's not a problem to get the child to school from either parent's house. In this situation, parents generally will have 50/50 physical contact with the child and they can rotate weeks or months. When parents live further apart, a joint physical custody arrangement might include the child living primarily with one parent and seeing the other parent every other weekend or on holidays.

Additionally, in some joint custody arrangements, the child remains in the family home while the parents alternate living there with the child. This is sometimes called a bird's nest custody arrangement, and it can be beneficial for the child to stay at a home to which he or she feels an emotional attachment.

Joint custody benefits

The main advantage of joint custody for the child is maintaining contact with both parents and continuing relationships on both sides equally. Joint custody also places an equal load of responsibility on both parents in terms of raising their child. 

Joint custody disadvantages

The main disadvantage of joint custody for the child is continuously being taken back and forth between houses. This can be emotionally upsetting, confusing, and inconvenient. Additionally, if either parent expresses ill will toward the other, the child can be emotionally hurt.

Legal custody

Legal custody means that the parent has been granted legal authority to make decisions about the child's health, upbringing, and education. A parent who has legal custody can, for example, decide which school the child will attend, what sort of medical care he or she will receive, which religion the child will practice, etc. In many cases, legal custody is awarded jointly, meaning that the parents each have a say and must come to these decisions together.

If parents don't cooperate and agree on decisions regarding the child, and one parent attempts to make unilateral decisions, the other parent can return to court and ask a judge to enforce the order of joint legal custody. Most of the time, courts prefer to grant joint legal custody since having both parents look out for the child's well being is preferable.

Child custody cases can be extremely stressful and emotional. If you're involved in a child custody case and are looking for answers, contact us today. We will provide a free consultation to let you know what to expect from the process, what your options are, and how we can help.

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