When couples with children divorce or split up, they encounter new legal terminology such as "joint custody." But what exactly does that mean in legal and practical terms? Joint custody involves a sharing of parental responsibility for the child. Unlike sole custody where one parent has the entire say, with joint custody both parents are actively involved in the child's upbringing. Joint custody can be joint physical custody, joint legal custody, or both.
Most people understand that physical custody has to do with where the child will live. If one parent is granted sole physical custody, the child will reside with that parent. If the parents are granted joint physical custody, the child typically will move back and forth between their residences.
Less familiar is the concept of legal custody. It determines who will make major decisions affecting the child, including religious education, choice of schools, extracurricular activities, health care, and more. If you have joint legal custody and don't allow the other parent to participate in the decision-making process, you could be found in contempt of court.
Joint custody can take a variety of forms, and each state has its own laws on the subject.
Joint Physical and Legal Custody
One common type of joint custody is sharing both physical and legal custody. In these arrangements, the child will spend some portion of time living with each parent (physical custody), and the parents will cooperatively make decisions about the child's upbringing and welfare, similar to when they were married (legal custody).
Example: Mother and Father arrange a schedule where Child lives with each parent for one month at a time (physical custody), and they agree that they will decide together on all major issues concerning Child's welfare and upbringing (legal custody).
Other Forms of Joint Custody
There are also other common joint-custody arrangements. One involves sharing legal custody but not physical custody. This means that the child will live exclusively with one parent, but both parents agree to cooperatively make key decisions about raising the child.
Example: Mother and Father decide that they will make decisions together on all major issues concerning Child's welfare and upbringing (legal custody), but Child will live with Mother, with Father entitled to visitation. Visitation means a court-ordered right to spend a certain amount of time with the child.
Other variations of joint custody also exist. For example, one parent may be granted the sole right to make decisions about the child's education, even though the child lives with both parents on an alternating schedule. In this case, physical custody is shared but decisions involving the child's education (one aspect of legal custody) are not.
Get Professional Legal Help with Your Child Custody Dispute
If you're facing a legal battle over child custody, it's helpful to have a qualified lawyer representing and advising you. A child custody lawyer can assist you in obtaining the best possible result for you and your child, whether it's joint custody or some other arrangement. Get a head start today by contacting a child custody attorney near you.