The Various Types of Child Custody

All of us have an idea of child custody but there are different types of child custody. The rights of the parents will depend on the type of child custody awarded by the court. This section provides details about the different types of child custody.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is the most common type of child custody. The child lives with the parent having physical custody. Sometimes, the court awards joint physical custody. In such cases, the child lives with both parents for a significant period of time.

In most cases, courts award joint physical custody only if the parents are living nearby. The traveling time can influence the court’s decision to award sole physical custody to one parent.

In case of sole physical custody, the child lives with one parent and the other parent may or may not be granted visited rights. For example, the mother will have sole physical custody while the child will visit the father every Saturday and will spend a few hours with the father.

Legal Custody

The parent awarded legal custody has the right to take decisions that affect the child’s welfare such as education, religious ceremonies and healthcare. The parent with legal custody will decide which school the child will attend, which religion the child will follow and what type of medical care the child will avail of. Generally the courts tend to award joint legal custody to both parents – the parents share legal custody.

In case the court has awarded joint legal custody but one parent takes the decisions without consulting the other, then the latter can move the court for enforcement of the joint custody order. While the court is unlikely to punish the former parent, it will definitely affect the already strained relationship between the parents which in turn will affect the child. Also both parents will have to incur legal and attorney fees.

If you have joint legal custody of your child but your ex-spouse is taking decisions without consulting you or you are unable to take decisions because of your ex-spouse’s conduct, then you should apply to court to modify the custody order and grant you sole legal custody. Most courts tend not to give sole legal custody as they believe both parents should be responsible for taking care of the child’s interests.

Sole Custody

Sometimes the court may grant one parent with the sole legal or physical custody. Sole physical custody is generally granted to one parent if the other parent is unfit or incapable of exercising parental responsibility. A parent can be considered unfit or incapable of exercising parental responsibility for many reasons including child abuse, being a habitual offender, substance addiction, moving in with a partner who may harm the child, etc.

The trend these days is to award joint legal custody when one parent is given the sole physical custody of the child. Generally when one parent has sole physical custody, the courts tend to be very lenient when it comes to the visitation rights of the other parent.

No matter how bitter about your divorce never use your child as the bargaining chip or as a “weapon” in your fight against your ex. Remember sole custody might not be in your child’s best interest.

Joint Custody

Joint custody means that each parent gets substantially equal access, authority, control, and responsibility for the children and assumes that each parent will share in raising the children. The parents may be award joint legal custody or joint physical custody or joint legal as well as physical custody.

Generally, when joint physical custody is awarded, the court will award joint legal custody as well. But when joint legal custody is awarded, it does not generally result in an award of joint physical custody.

Joint Custody Arrangements

When both parents have joint physical custody, the parents generally submit a custody arrangement to the court for approval. This arrangement will depend on many factors including the work schedule of the parents, the school schedule and needs of the child, etc. Generally the child will stay with one parent for a certain period of time and spend an equal amount of time staying with the other parent. This type of arrangement works best when the parents live nearby. If the parents stay far apart, then the child will live with one parent during the week days and spend the weekends with the other parent.

Another form of joint custody arrangement is referred to as the bird’s nest arrangement in which the child remains in the family home whereas the parents move in and out as per the arrangement. This kind of arrangement is specially beneficial in case of young child who are emotionally attached to the family home.

Joint Custody Pros and Cons

Joint custody has its own pros and cons. The main advantage of joint custody is that the child gets to remain in contact with both parents and as such the relationship with either parent is not affected. Both parents share the responsibility of raising the child.

The biggest disadvantage is that the child has to move back and forth. This type of arrangement will not work well if the parents are not on good terms with each other. It can have a negative affect on the child. Also it can be expensive as the child will have two homes.

In a joint custody arrangement, each parent should keep detailed accounts of the money he or she spends on the child’s living expenses. If the other parent seeks changes to the arrangement claiming that he or she is spending more on the child, then the accounts will come in handy.

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