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Understanding the Different Types of Custody

Although children may be small in size, any parent knows they come with a lot of responsibility; and the issue of child custody can be equally complex. The most common understanding of child custody is that it refers to the parent with whom the child lives. However, this definition only encompasses “Physical Custody.” Parents may decide, or the court may order, that the children live with one parent full-time. This is called “Sole Physical Custody.” Alternatively, the most common form of physical custody is Joint Physical Custody − whereby the children’s time is divided between both parents based on a schedule.

The other type of custody is Legal Custody, that is, a parent’s authority to make important decisions for his/her children. Important decisions are those relating to the health, education and welfare of the child. There are actually very few of these decisions which must be made throughout the typical child’s life. For example, choosing the child’s primary care physician, school, religious affiliation, etc. Like physical custody, legal custody can be awarded solely to one parent, or jointly to both. Sole legal custody means only that parent has authority to make these important decisions for the child. Joint legal custody means both parents share the rights and responsibility of making such decisions. Note, however, an important distinction with respect to joint legal custody: the “joint” nature of the authority does not mean consent of both parents is required. Unless otherwise specifically delineated in a formal agreement and/or court order, either parent may act alone in such decisions, so long as the decision does not affect the other parent’s time.

By way of example, consider the holiday season. Perhaps Dad is Christian and celebrates Christmas, and Mom is Jewish and celebrates Hanukkah. What do the children celebrate? With which parent do the children spend the holidays? That depends on the legal and physical custody arrangement between Mom and Dad. If Dad has sole legal custody, he can decide the children are to be raised Christian. Suppose they have joint physical custody, but Dad has sole legal custody. With a joint physical custody arrangement, the children likely alternate their time between each parent on even and odd years. Thus, the children may be raised Christian, but spend half their holiday seasons with Mom, and thus celebrate Hanukkah during her time.

Ultimately, the goal is to insure the children’s best interests are met. That can be difficult to understand, especially where the interests involved are as intimate as religion. The attorneys at Bremer, Whyte, Brown & O’Meara LLP have extensive experience and knowledge in resolving disputes concerning child custody.

Contact the Family Law attorneys at Bremer, Whyte, Brown & O’Meara LLP to zealously litigate or amicably resolve your custody issues.