When it comes to child custody decisions, it’s important to understand the difference between joint custody and sole custody. Custody consists of two aspects: physical custody and legal custody. A guardian with legal custody has the right to make long-term decisions and plans for the child, including education, medical care, discipline, and religious training. A guardian with physical custody has the child living with them the majority of the time, and they have the right to make decisions about the child’s everyday welfare. Let’s look custody arrangements in greater detail.
With sole custody, one parent has legal and/or physical custody. There are two different types of sole custody.
Sole Legal Custody: With sole legal custody, one parent has the right to make decisions regarding the child’s welfare, including medical needs, emotional & moral needs, education decisions, and religious training.
Sole Physical Custody: With sole physical custody, the child lives with one single parent. The remaining parent may have visitation rights, unless the court determines that visitation rights would not be in the best interest of the child.
Based on these two aspects, custody can be structured in a number of ways. A single parent may have both physical and legal custody. Or, a single parent could have sole legal custody rights, but share physical custody with a visitation agreement. Another alternative is for one parent to have sole physical custody, but share the decision-making (legal custody) with the other parent. It is very rare for the court to award both physical & legal sole custody to a single parent – unless the other parent is deemed unfit, or mentally unstable.
Joint custody is divided into three categories: legal, physical, and combination. Joint legal custody is where parents share in the decision-making for the child, but the child has only one physical residence. Joint physical custody is where the child has two residences, spending at least 35% of his time with the other parent. It’s also possible to construct your own special joint custody agreement – with a combination of shared physical and joint legal custody. For example, you could provide a single residence for the children, and have the parents live there on a rotating basis. If you decide to pursue joint custody, it’s important that you are able to talk openly with your spouse about decisions that affect the child. If both partners are constantly fighting over education, religious decisions, or other key factors, the court may strike down joint custody.