Defining Custody: Joint Legal Custody, Joint Physical Custody, And Sole Physical And Legal Custody

Often times our clients come into our office, and the first thing they state is, “I want custody.” There isn’t any explanation as to what type of custody they want, but simply that they want custody of the child or children. Normally, we find out quickly that they mean they want to be the primary physical custodian of the child. Sometimes, when they’re really upset, or feel their child is in danger, they want to be the Sole Custodian of the minor child. It takes a little while to explain the differences of each “type” of custody because sometimes when people hear “joint custody” they immediately think equal time/equal decision making authority. So for this Monday, we’ll just give you a quick run through of custody terms and what exactly they mean in the simplest of forms:

Joint Legal Custody: Both parents will have the ability to participate in decision making process of the child’s life. It is quite common that one parent is deemed to be allowed to make the final decision in all aspects of the child’s life as they have been doing that for years. However, the trend is heavily focused on having both parents actively involved in making decisions in their child’s life. There are times when the parents know they may not agree on all decisions, and knowing that they would forever battle over one person always having the veto power, they come to a compromise. In the latter situation, parents will divide up the different parts of a child’s life, and each take the responsibility for those (education, medical/dental, civic, cultural, religious) choices.  For example – Say that the mother always takes little Gigi to her doctor’s appointments and asks millions of questions, but the father is a math genius and attends all mathlete competitions. It would only make sense that the mother would get medical decision making authority, and the father would get educational decision making authority.

Joint Physical Custody: This means each parent receives periods of custody or time with the minor child. These periods of custody or visitation may or may not be equal amounts of time. There are a multitude of factors that go into how much time the parents will get with the children. Ex: Age, proximity to the child’s school, parent’s work schedule

Sole Physical and Legal Custody: One parent has the decision making authority over the child’s life. The other parent can voice their opinion, but when it comes down to it, the one with the authority is the one who makes the final decision. This also means that the other parent may or may not have visitation according to the facts of the case.

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