What are the different types of child custody?

The list below are some of the different child custody arrangements:

  • sole legal custody;
  • sole physical custody;
  • joint legal custody; and
  • joint physical custody.

A parent’s custody of a child can be legal, physical, or both.  Legal custody encompasses a parent’s ability to make major life decisions relating to the child’s health, education, and welfare.  Physical custody is simply with which parent the child lives.  Both of these types of custody can be granted to one parent exclusively (“sole custody”) or shared between them jointly.  For example, one parent can have physical custody of a child and share legal custody with the other parent (referred to as “sole physical and joint legal custody”).  Alternatively, both parents can share physical and legal custody joint custody) which allows the child to live with each parent and requires them to collaborate on the child’s health, education, and welfare related decisions.

One of the other main components when discussing custody is visitation (also referred to as timeshare, or a parenting plan).  This is the actual schedule that the parents follow, and determine what time is spent in each parents’ house.  Some common visitation schedules include scenarios where the parents are on a week on, week off schedule, or a rotating weekend schedule.  Visitation schedules can be created to fit a particular family’s needs.  Joint custody does not necessarily mean equal time with each parent, but it does mean that the child(ren) are spending consistent time with each parent.

Can parents come to their own child custody agreement?

Certainly.  In fact, many courts prefer that parents work together to come to a custody agreement.  This process could be as simple as the parents drafting the agreement together and submitting it to the court for approval.

What is a parenting plan and when is it created?

Once parents determine the type of custody best for the child, the next step is to come up with a parenting plan.  This plan is a schedule detailing how much time each parent will spend with the child and how each parent will meet their duties to raise the child.  The child is always the focus of the parenting plan, so his or her best interests must be reflected in it.

The court will look at several factors to gauge whether a parenting plan is in fact in the child’s best interest including:

  • child’s health, safety, and welfare;
  • any history of physical, drug or alcohol abuse by parents;
  • “nature and amount” of contact with parents;
  • stability of the potential home environments;
  • location of the child’s siblings (the court strongly disfavors separating siblings); and
  • child’s preference (depending on his or her age).

Creating a parenting plan together can make each parent feel validated in the decision-making process and may reduce the chances of child custody and visitation disagreements down the road. Parenting plans are unique to each family, so there is no right or wrong division of time; however, just like any agreement it can be helpful to consult an attorney before signing one.  An attorney can even help two parents draft a parenting plan if they so wish. When reaching agreements, parties can be creative about the division of holidays, children’s birthdays, phone calls, travel, or involvement in extra-curricular activities.  For this transition, it is good for parties to get on the same page regarding their expectations for co-parenting and raising their child(ren) in two households.

For more information regarding the next steps to take if you cannot reach a custody agreement please see the next article of this series — Child Custody (Part 2): Contested Custody.