If you are involved in a child custody case, it is important to understand the different types of custody and how custody determinations are made. Here is a look at the main types of child custody and what they mean.
Legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make major decisions on important matters that impact the child. The parent that has legal custody can decide what school the child will attend, the medical care the child will receive, obtaining a passport and other major matters that affect the child’s health, education, and overall upbringing. Most decisions, however, are not legal custody decisions and fall under the umbrella of “day-to-day” decisions. Each parent is free to make day-to-day decisions when the child is in his/her care without discussing or agreeing with the other parent. Legal custody can be joint to both parents or sole to one parent. Further, the court has the right to grant joint legal custody, but also award a parent final decision making authority on a certain legal custody issue (such as medical decisions) if the parents are unable to agree after good faith discussions.
Joint Legal Custody
In cases of joint legal custody, both parents have an equal say in major decisions that affect the child. If both parents are deemed fit and the parents are able to communicate somewhat amicably, a court will usually grant joint legal custody. With this type of custody arrangement, parents do not live together but continue to share the responsibilities that come with parenting. If the parents cannot agree upon a major legal custody issue, then a court can decide.
Sole Legal Custody
If a parent has sole legal custody, that parent can make all important decisions for the child without consulting with or obtaining the other parent’s consent. The non-custodial parent, however, can still make “day-to-day” decisions while the child is in his/her care
Physical custody refers to the Court’s determination of the division of custodial time with the child. The parent that has primary physical custody will usually spend the majority of the time with the child. Physical custody can be shared, or sole/primary. The custodial schedule (when the child is with the mother, and when the child is with the father) often matters more than what term is applied (shared/primary). There is not a standard definition of what it means to have sole/primary physical custody. There is also not a standard definition of what it means to have shared physical custody. This is why the custodial schedule as outlined in an agreement or court order is extremely important.
Where to Learn More
Ideally, parents should communicate with one another to determine the best placement for the child. If that is not possible then the court will make a determination based on what is in the best interest of the child. For more information about child custody or for legal representation for your custody case, speak to OFP Law.