What are the different types of child custody arrangements that people can make?

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types of Child custody

Getting a separation or divorce is never easy, but it can be especially difficult when children are involved. Having to turn one household into two is both financially and emotionally hard on all family members. There are times when the custody of a child is in question. Custody simply means who is responsible, but many different types of custody arrangements exist.

Physical custody

One of the most common types of custody is “physical custody.” This means a parent has been given physical custody of a child, either by a court or another ruling agency. When you gain physical custody, it means that you are allowed to have the child reside with you. Physical custody doesn’t have to be assigned primarily to one parent; both parents can have physical custody if the child will be spending a significant amount of time with both parents.

Physical custody is typically only granted when two parents will be living near one another. If the parents are located too far apart, the courts might then have to decide who has sole custody. “Sole custody” is when one parent has primary custody or the child resides with one parent most of the time, while the other parent has limited custody rights for visitation.

Legal custody

When one parent is granted “legal custody,” that means they have been given the right to make important decisions that affect the child. When a parent has legal custody, that means they can make decisions regarding where the child goes to school, what religion they subscribe to and other things like their medical care decisions. Legal custody doesn’t have to be limited to one parent. In fact, many states award legal custody equally to both parents to make decisions together for the child’s well-being.

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If joint custody is awarded and one parent makes important decisions like where the child goes to school without checking with the other parent, then the parent who was left out of the decision-making process can take the matter back to court and have the judge enforce the legal custody rule. Although there are typically no repercussions like the parent getting into any trouble with a child custody attorney. It is a hassle, and it is most likely something that will cause more resentment in any custody arrangement. Also, taking someone back to court isn’t free, so the money that has to be paid for time in court is a huge deterrent to many couples.

If a parent continues to violate the rights of the other parent, then in some states you can go to court to get “sole” custody. Many courts are averse to granting sole custody, believing that it isn’t often in the best interest of the child. The statistics show that children fare better when they are cared for by both parents than when they are in the care of just one.

Sole custody

There are times when a judge will find that it is in the child’s best interest to live with only one parent. Sole custody is awarded during divorce proceedings when it is determined that one parent is unfit. Reasons that a parent would be unfit are things like alcohol use, drugs, or financial problems.

There are times when one parent has moved in with someone else who may be harmful to the child, which would also be grounds for a judge to award sole custody. Even when sole custody is awarded, it may be the case that the judge will award legal custody. Some couples will use their child as a bargaining chip or for retaliation in a divorce, which is horrible. The cost to the family unit and the child’s emotional development is enormous.

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Joint custody

When parents decide that they no longer want to live together but want to share in child-rearing and the decisions involved, then they can ask for “joint custody.” Joint custody means that they equally share both legal and physical custody equally. You can have joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or a combination of both of them.

Joint custody arrangements

When couples decide on a joint custody agreement, they will draw up a “parenting agreement.” Once drafted, it is presented to the judge. The arrangement is worked out to include things like work schedules, a child’s school schedule and all the other specifics of the child’s daily life and activities. Most often parents will rotate weeks, or sometimes months. If the parents don’t live close together, then joint custody might mean that the child stays primarily with one parent, but that they split the holidays and weekends equally.

Another form of joint custody arrangement is a “family home.” The parents in a family home arrangement revolve in and out of the home so that the child doesn’t have to be shuffled back and forth. Another name for this type of arrangement is “bird’s nest custody.”

When two people don’t want to live together anymore, it isn’t as simple as just saying goodbye, especially if there are children involved. There are all sorts of ways to draft a custody arrangement so that the child’s well-being is foremost and taken care of.

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Student @ Advanced Digital Sciences Center, Singapore. Travelled to 30+ countries, passion for basketball.