Child custody may become the most important and most difficult part of your divorce settlement. What most don’t realize is that the common idea of custody doesn’t necessarily match up with the legal definition of custody. Sometimes, a parent will be incorrectly deemed as a parent with “sole custody” when the child lives with that parent most of the time. Even the idea of what visitation means gets conflated. Let’s examine what these terms actually mean.
Physical and Legal Definitions of Child Custody
Custody arrangements are divided legally into physical and legal arrangements. Legal custody refers to the decision of who is designated to make big decisions for the child such as location of school, religious teachings and other formative cultural education. Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child primarily lives. In a divorce, it is likely that these arrangements are different.
Options for Arrangement
A decision of sole custody means that all custodial rights, physical and legal, are awarded to just one parent. This is an atypical decision that is only made if one parent is deemed unfit; being unfit could mean having a problem with substance abuse or having previous charges of neglect or child abuse. In this case, if it is best for the child, the court will award sole custody.
Physical custody refers to the right of having their child physically in their home. Some people think that a decision of joint custody means that the child will be living between parents for equal amounts of time. That is not necessarily the case. This just means that the court can split the time between the parents in a number of ways. Theoretically, a couple could be awarded a 50-50 division of physical custody, but that is not always practical.
Courts Prefer Involvement of Both Parents
Unless one parent is unfit, the court prefers to keep both parents involved with their child. Even if one parent is awarded sole physical custody, it will usually be encouraged to have both parents involved in decisions that affect their child. This may even mean a pretty open and flexible visitation schedule for the noncustodial parent.
If you have further questions about a pending child custody decision or an issue with your current arrangement, visit a family law attorney to discuss what legal options you may have in your current situation such as the family law lawyer locals turn to.