If you are going through a divorce and have children, child custody is arguably one of the most important matters you will have to deal with during the divorce proceedings. Although custody arrangements can be reviewed and modified until the child turns 18, it is very rare for custody to be changed from one parent to the other after the initial order has been established. This is why it is important to understand how custody and visitation (more often referred to as parenting time) will be determined.
There are two types of custody, legal custody and physical custody. The parents may share both legal and physical custody, share legal custody but give one parent sole physical custody, or have one parent have sole primary and physical custody. As you will see below, even when one parent is granted sole custody, the other parent will still retain rights to the child.
Legal custody relates solely to the decision-making rights regarding the child. A parent can have legal custody of a child without having physical custody. The parent with legal custody will have the authority to make decisions about the child’s medical, religious, and educational needs. If one parent is awarded sole legal custody, that parent has the right to make major decisions about the child without consulting with the other parent. If the parents share legal custody, they must discuss the matter with the each other before making any major decision.
Physical custody refers to where the child will live. Some custody arrangements will specify that the child live with one parent most of the time. In this case, that parent will have sole physical custody while the other parent will have a parenting plan that is worked out between the parents. Other time, the child may live with each parent for fifty-percent (50%) of the time and will have shared physical custody.
Absent any verifiable concerns about the child’s safety, the parent who does not have physical custody of the child will be awarded parenting time. If the parents do not come to a mutual agreement regarding the parenting time, the court will determine a schedule that it deems to be best for all parties involved. It will look at factors such as the needs of the child(ren), the proximity of the parents’ houses to one another, and each parent’s schedule. The child’s age is also a factor when setting a parenting time schedule. Infants and younger children typically need short, frequent visits, while older children may do better with longer visits.
It is important to remember that each family is unique and there is no one size fits all solution to custody issues. Dealing with child custody issues can often be a very complicated and stressful process. If you have concerns about your custody case, you should consider contacting a family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected. Call our office to schedule a consultation with an attorney experienced with child custody and visitation matters.