Understanding How the Different Custody Types Work
If you are one of the 13.4 million families where the parents do not live together, it is important to have a clear custody arrangement. The right agreement ensures your child has the care they need. When discussing custody arrangements, it is important to keep in mind that physical and legal custody are actually two very different things.
What Is Physical Custody?
Physical custody is about who the child actually lives with. If a parent has physical custody, they have the right to have their child live with them at least some of the time. Physical custody can be divided in any manner of ways. Some parents split physical custody 50/50 while others may just have custody on weekends or at holidays. It is also possible for one parent to have sole physical custody. In these cases, the child lives entirely with one parent. However, the parent without physical custody may still have parenting time rights with their child.
What Is Legal Custody?
When talking to your divorce lawyer about custody, keep in mind that legal custody also exists. This is a type of custody that lets you have input in your child’s upbringings. Legal custody allows you to make decisions about things like:
- Where your child goes to school
- What medical care your child receives
- What religion your child learns about
- Whether your child goes to therapy
Legal custody is typically shared 50/50 or awarded to just one parent. However, in some cases of joint legal custody, a judge may decide one parent is the “tie breaker” who gets to make the decision when both parties do not agree. Typically, the tie-breaking parent is the one who is the main caregiver of the child.
Which Type of Custody Should You Seek?
Now that you know a bit about legal vs. physical custody, it’s helpful to learn a little about how these forms of custody are awarded in a divorce or separation. Who gets custody is determined based on the best interest of the child. When both parents are responsible, loving parents, the court usually prefers that both legal and physical custody are split. However, any separation can get complicated, so sharing physical and legal custody is not always an option.
Most parents instinctively want to seek sole physical custody because they want to spend as much time with their children as they can. Sole physical custody can provide a child with more stability and ensure they remain with their primary caregiver. It is often a good idea if the other parent is too busy for child care or does not adequately meet a child’s needs. However, joint custody can also be a good idea. If you and your co-parent both have good relationships with your child, spending time with both parents can meet your child’s emotional and social needs.
In most cases, courts prefer to maintain joint legal custody whenever possible. This allows both parents the opportunity to participate in their child’s upbringing. However, you will need sole legal custody if the other parent is abusive. It might also be a good idea to try for sole legal custody if the other parent is neglectful or does not spend time in the child’s day-to-day life. In some cases, legal custody is a matter of convenience. If a parent lives far away and does not communicate promptly, you might need sole custody to ensure your child’s needs are met promptly.
Finding your ideal division of physical and legal custody can take some time. Since the subject is so complex, it’s a good idea to get help from an experienced divorce lawyer. The Law Office of Joanne Kleiner has been assisting families in Montgomery, Bucks, and Philadelphia counties for over 25 years. We can mediate for an amicable separation, or our team is happy to fight for you in a contested custody case. Email us or call (215) 886-1266 in Jenkintown to set up your consultation.