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Child Custody: Your Guide to the Different Kinds of Custody Arrangements

No one goes into a marriage already planning their divorce. More than 2 million couples that got married in the U.S. last year, and chances are, the majority of them believe their marriage will last forever.

Sadly, close to half will end in divorce.

Divorce is a difficult process to go through. Even if you’re prepared emotionally, there are still assets to divide and mounds of paperwork to fill out.

If you have children, it can be even more difficult.

This is why establishing a child custody plan before you go to court is important. But, what are your options?

Not every custody arrangement works for all situations. In fact, there are four different types of child custody arrangements for exactly this reason.

In the guide below, we explain each type so you can decide which one works best for you.

Physical Child Custody

Physical custody is the most straightforward of all the terms. It means which parent the child will live with.

If mom has physical custody, the child or children live with her. If the courts grant physical custody to dad, the children reside with him.

The parent that’s granted physical custody becomes the custodial parent. In some states, joint physical custody is awarded. This would be a situation where the child splits time between both parents’ homes.

This situation is ideal if one of the parents has a job where they travel often. Also, if one of the parents is an RN or attending ER physician, joint physical custody could be a viable option.

This is commonly granted when the parents’ homes are relatively close to one another. It also helps if both parents live within the same school zone.

Time and time again, you’ll hear the term “best interest of the child.” In a joint physical custody case, this is especially true. If the parents live too far or have straining work schedules, this could affect joint physical custody being an option.

Sole Custody

Physical custody and sole custody may sound similar, but they’re very different.

In physical custody cases, one parent isn’t deemed better than the other – only that the living arrangement is better for the child. In sole custody cases, one parent is usually considered “unfit” to parent a child.

The court will award sole custody if it’s clear and can be proven the other parent falls into this category. Sometimes, it could be a safety issue, like one parent is involved in gang activity. Other times, they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol and there’s concern for the well-being of the child.

Sole custody can also be given to one parent because the other lives with someone who could harm the child.

In most sole custody cases, the other parent will have visitation rights. This could mean supervised or unsupervised visitation.

Unless there’s an extreme circumstance, the non-custodial parent will have some sort of visitation. If you believe this is the path your divorce is going down, and you’re involved in an extreme circumstance, make sure your lawyer explains every possible outcome to you.

The courts won’t grant sole custody without because one parent doesn’t like the other parent’s new partner. You’re also not allowed to deny visitation for this or any other reason.

The only exception is if you feel your child is in danger by spending time with your former spouse. For example, let’s say your ex arrives to pick your child up and it’s clear they’ve been drinking. You do not have to allow your child to become endangered by riding in a car with your ex.

In this scenario, it’s best to document the situation. If possible, contact your local police and file a report. This isn’t to get your ex in trouble; it’s to protect you if you’re accused of withholding your child and violating a custody order.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is most often the easiest to figure out and is in the best interest of the child. This is when both parents amicably decide to co-parent their children.

In this situation, mom and dad both agree to a parenting agreement. They present this agreement to the court at their final divorce hearing.

This arrangement details the parents’ action plan for raising their child. It will include where the child will live and when they will spend time with the non-custodial parent.

It will include holidays and vacations. In cases where both parents live close to one another, it may also determine if the non-custodial parent will pick the child up from school during the week.

While joint custody is often believed to be in the best interest of the child, it can often be painful for one or both of the parents. Sometimes, one parent has lingering feelings for the other. At other times, exceptions like vacation times and scheduling conflicts arise.

If you’re struggling to deal with having joint custody, there are ways to make it work for everyone involved. Read more here to gain helpful tips on making joint custody a smoother process.

Legal Custody

Legal custody can be a combination of any of the custody types we’ve mentioned. You can have sole legal custody, legal physical custody, or joint legal custody.

It means one parent has the authority to make all decisions regarding the child without conferring with the other. This includes education, religion, disciplinary, and health decisions.

In other words, if you have legal custody of your child, you can enroll them in a new school or find a new pediatrician. You don’t need the permission of your ex.

However, most states prefer to grant joint legal custody. As you can guess, this means both you and your former spouse make decisions equally.

One parent cannot take it upon themselves to make decisions without input from the other. The parent who feels their rights are being infringed upon can go back to court, citing a custody breach.

Most courts will not punish the offending parent. They will order them to adhere to the joint legal custody order.

It’s not advised that one parent take the other to court over one or two decisions. It’s not only expensive, but it doesn’t accomplish much. It’s much more productive to try and work it out without involving the courts.

If you can’t come to an agreement on amicable terms or the offending parent continues to ignore the custody order, then you should involve your lawyer.

Keep in mind that the “best interest of the child” doesn’t stop when the court dates do; it continues until the child reaches legal adult age.

Child Custody Cases Really Are About the Child

Child custody can be complicated. If you or your estranged spouse have hired lawyers, the process can be even more complicated.

If you’re struggling to cope with your divorce, you’re not alone. Visit our self-improvement and motivation blog to learn healthy ways to cope.

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