Divorce isn’t easy, especially when there are children involved. If you have determined that it’s best for you and your spouse to go your separate ways, there will be a number of issues to resolve regarding your children. Like all good parents, you want what’s best for your kids. You and your ex will hopefully be able to achieve a fair agreement without many obstacles. Physical custody is typically a top priority for parents who are navigating divorce proceedings.
What is physical custody?
There are several types of child custody. Physical custody basically refers to where your children will live on a regular basis when you and your spouse no longer share a household. Either you or your ex (or both) will have physical custody of your children, although there are sometimes cases where the court grants physical custody of a child to a third party.
Every child custody case is unique, and a judge can thoroughly review a specific case in order to determine what would be in the best interest of the child in question. Each state has guidelines in place to help the court form its decisions. In matters of physical custody, the court has several options.
Shared physical custody
You may have also heard shared physical custody referred to as “joint” custody. If you and your child’s other parent agree to share physical custody, it means that your child will live in two separate households, dividing his or her time between each. You and your co-parent are free to customize your shared custody plan to best fit the immediate needs and long-term goals of your family.
For instance, some parents split their custody time evenly by alternating every other week. Others schedule time by rotating custody every few days. Still others may extend the time that each parent has with his or her children. In such cases, a child might live with one parent for six weeks or more then spend the next six weeks with his or her other parent. Barring any issue that would deem a parent unfit for custody, the court typically believes that sharing physical custody is usually the option that is best for children.
Primary physical custody with visitation
The court may grant you primary custodial rights or you might be a noncustodial parent with visitation rights. If you have primary physical custody of your child, then he or she lives with you on a full-time basis but has scheduled visits with his or her other parent, which may or may not include overnights, according to the terms of a specific court order.
If there’s an existing court order regarding primary custody and visitation, both you and your ex must adhere to its terms. This means that if you’re scheduled to drop off your child at a specific location at a certain time on a specified day, you must do it. Serious legal problems can arise if a parent disregards a court order, for instance, if he or she is angry at the other parent and refuses to let him or her see the child in question at the court-ordered time.
Sole physical custody of a child
Perhaps you filed for divorce after years of trying to help your spouse overcome a substance abuse problem. If such problems still exist, it’s understandable that you might file a petition for sole physical custody of your child, stating that you believe your ex’s addiction problems place your child at risk. In such cases, the court may deem a parent unfit for custody. This doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that your ex won’t be granted visitation rights.
The court might determine it best to restrict visitation, such as by requiring that all visits be supervised by a state official. In some cases, such as when there is evidence of domestic violence, the court might rule that a parent is prohibited from seeing his or her children. Such a ruling might be issued on a temporary or permanent basis.
Physical custody must align with the best interest of the child
The court decides each case by its own merits. It considers facts, such as the length of your marriage, the age of your child, income level of each parent and numerous other issues to determine which type of physical custody arrangement would be best for your child.
If you and your ex are able to peacefully discuss child-related issues, you are free to create your own physical custody plan, then seek the court’s approval. If you disagree and are unable to resolve a specific custody matter, you may seek the court’s intervention at any time.
Divorce can be a difficult process for everyone involved, but divorce often takes the highest toll on minor children. Children may have a hard time adjusting to changes in the marital relationship, and this can be made more complicated when mom and dad are unable to get along.
Custody sharing arrangements can also complicate matters. This is why it’s important to have a solid plan in place to ensure everyone in the family understands their rights, responsibilities and obligations as they relate to care and support for minor children.
Types of Custody
In a marriage, both parents share custody of minor children, and each parent plays an equal role in the raising of children. In divorce, however, there may be different types of custody that split responsibilities and obligations. Depending on circumstances, this split may not provide for equitable sharing of time spent together nor financial responsibilities.
For the most part, custody is designated as either physical or legal. Likewise, custody may be sole or joint. Joint custody generally means that both parents will play some role in caring for the child or children after a divorce, but sole custody means that only one parent has a certain responsibility.
The Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody
Although the two main types of custody are related, they differ in definition. Physical custody means that you physically care for the child by housing him or her while meeting care needs by providing food and shelter. Additionally, physical custody also adds in the consideration of providing a safe living environment.
Legal custody, on the other hand, is a type of custody that grants one or both parents the ability to legally make decisions for the child even if you do not have full physical custody of a child. When you have legal custody of a child, you may share physical custody, but you are the parent who makes decisions regarding things like medical care, education, lifestyle choices and so on.
The Benefits of Legal Custody for Parents
While physical custody is beneficial to parents in that it allows them to be close to children after a divorce, legal custody benefits parents by giving them the ability to maintain the role of decision maker. This role is crucial in the shaping of a child’s future, but it is also important in providing for safety and security. Having a legal custody arrangement also reduces the potential for conflict as the order should clearly state which parent is responsible for which decisions.
The Benefits of Legal Custody for Children
Understanding legal custody assignment is beneficial to parents in a divorce, but it also provides benefits to children. When a child understands who is responsible for making decisions regarding his or her well-being, it can provide a sense of security. There is no questioning about which parent to consult regarding decisions, and the hope is that the child will feel less conflicted about who to turn to when seeking resolution to a problem regarding the meeting of needs.
The Importance of a Formal Custody Arrangement
No matter what type of custody arrangement you plan to have after a divorce, you absolutely need to have a formal arrangement issued by a family court. Too often, divorcing parents will agree verbally to a custody arrangement only to find themselves at odds over the terms after the divorce is finalized.
Having a formal custody order issued by a family court judge ensures that all terms are clear and that both parties understand and agree to be bound by the terms. This can reduce the chances for disputes in the future, and it can provide for the best interests of the child or children by setting realistic expectations and laying out obligations.
Partner With a Divorce Attorney
Because the stakes are so high when it comes to legal custody assignment, you are highly encouraged to partner with a divorce attorney to handle the details of your separation. A divorce attorney can discuss the specifics of your case and the unique details of your family situation. He or she can then offer guidance and options to not only help you navigate your divorce in the most effective and efficient manner possible, but your attorney can also help you to seek the custody status that best suits your family’s needs.
Another benefit to partnering with a divorce attorney is that he or she can handle all communication with your spouse so that you can focus on caring for your child or children. This helps to defuse tense situations as your attorney can act as an objective third party who has no emotional ties to the divorce process. If litigation is required to argue for custody, your attorney can also appear in court on your behalf to represent your interests and the best interests of any children involved in the process.
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