Divorces can be complicated and emotional, particularly when children are involved. And, if you are petitioning for custody, it is crucial to have a skilled divorce lawyer by your side. It’s also very important that parents understand the legal terminology and what the difference is between the numerous custody options. Probably the most important distinction to understand is the difference between legal custody and physical custody.
If one parent has legal custody, that parent has the legal authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf. These decisions include medical decisions, decisions regarding education, and religion. Sometimes the courts will award joint legal custody, in which case both parents share in making the decisions for the child or children. In the case of joint legal custody, if one parent excludes or makes a decision with consulting the other parent, the excluded parent has the right to ask the court to enforce the custody agreement.
Physical custody describes the living situation of the child, meaning that the majority of the time the child lives with the parent who has physical custody, while the other parent normally has visitation rights, Sometimes the parents will have joint physical custody, if it can be accomplished without interrupting the child’s normal routine. Interestingly enough, research shows that couples who choose divorce mediation over litigation have joint custody twice as often!
Living in two households has many benefits for the child, including the ability to maintain a strong relationship with both parents. Joint physical custody also minimizes the feelings of loss and rejection that children tend to feel when one of their parents moves out of the house. However, the downside is the child/children may never feel settled in one place, and frequent transitions can intensify the child’s feeling of abandonment. In addition, frequent transitions with joint physical custody can lead to a feeling of a loss of control and constant chaos by the child.
In the event that one parent is deemed unfit due to alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse or neglect, the courts will oftentimes award sole custody to the other parent. The family court will always make custody decisions in the best interest of the child, and it is worth noting that usually the family court prefers to award joint custody if both parents are fit for parenting. This allows the children to maintain a close bond with both parents, which is so crucial to the emotional and mental development of children.
A newer and less common concept in custody is bird’s nest custody. With bird’s nest custody, the child/children remain in the family residence, while the parents rotate in and out of the family home according to their visitation time. The parents each have a separate residence, which allows the children the security of not having to adjust to new/unfamiliar homes. This type of arrangement, of course, can be quite expensive, which is why it’s not common for the average divorcing couple.
If you have questions regarding child custody, please feel free to contact us. We are here to help!