As a parent going through divorce, it is only a matter of time before child custody must be determined. Although you may understand generally what child custody is, there are some legal terms that will be important as you begin to explore what options might be best for your family. Three things to understand regarding your child custody options includes the difference between physical and legal custody, the different between sole and joint custody and how the court considers what is in your child’s best interests.
Physical versus legal
Physical custody refers to where the child will live and who will be responsible for the child’s day to day needs. Legal custody refers to the responsibility to make long-term decisions about the child’s upbringing. Some of these decisions may include what religion the child will practice, what school he or she will attend and even what type of non-emergency health care the child will receive.
Sole versus joint
Physical or legal custody can be awarded to one parent or both parents, meaning the custody can be sole or joint. For example, if physical custody is awarded to only one parent, it is called sole physical custody. Typically, sole physical custody is accompanied by joint legal custody. In this situation, the parent who does not have physical custody will often receive parenting time, which is sometimes called visitation.
Although sole physical custody is an option, many families end up with joint physical and legal custody instead. However, it is important to note that joint custody does not necessarily mean an equal split of the child’s time.
The child’s best interests
Joint physical and legal custody is a popular custody option because it is often in the child’s best interest to maintain a close relationship with both parents. Awarding custody in the child’s best interests is the court’s main goal. To this end, some of the factors the court may consider include:
- If you and your spouse can cooperate when it involves your child
- What child’s relationship is like with his or her immediate family members
- Your child’s safety
- The stability of each potential home environment
- How close you and your spouse live to each other
- Any impact custody may have on your child’s education
- Your child’s preference
Each situation is different, and there are many things to take into consideration when determining what type of child custody you would like to pursue. With a full understanding of the potential child custody options, you can better advocate for the option that best fits your child’s needs.