Child Support and Custody

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Legal Custody

 
Legal custody of a child is the right and obligation to make decisions about a child’s upbringing. Decisions regarding schooling, and medical and dental care, for example, are made by a parent with legal custody. In many states, courts now award joint legal custody to the parents, which means that the decision making is shared.

 

Physical Custody

 
Physical custody is the right of a parent to have a child live with him or her. Some states recognize the concept of joint physical custody where the child spends approximately half the time in each parent’s home. The latter arrangement is tricky and should be considered only if you have an amicable, respectful relationship with your ex-spouse. Also, it works best if you live near the other parent. This lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.

 

Sole Custody

 
Sole custody means that only the custodial parent has physical custody and legal custody of a child, and that the noncustodial parent has visitation rights. In most states, courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent, and they are often enlarging the role a father plays in his children’s lives. This translates into physical custody for one parent with joint legal custody shared by both — plus a generous visitation schedule. Courts may not hesitate to award physical custody to the father if the mother is deemed unfit — for example, because of alcohol or drug dependency, an unfit boyfriend or child abuse or neglect charges.

 

Joint Custody

 
Parents who don’t live together have joint custody (also called shared custody) when they agree, or a court orders them, to share the decision-making responsibilities for, and/or physical control and custody of, their children. Joint custody can exist if the parents are divorced, separated, no longer cohabiting or even if they never lived together. Joint custody may be joint legal custody, joint physical custody (where the children spend a significant portion of time with each parent) or both. It is common for couples who share physical custody to also share legal custody, but not necessarily the other way around.

 

Usually, when parents share joint custody, they work out joint physical custody according to their schedules and housing arrangements. If the parents cannot agree, the court will impose an arrangement. A common pattern is for children to split weeks between each parent’s house. Other joint physical custody arrangements include alternating years or six-month periods, or spending weekends and holidays with one parent while spending weekdays with the other.

 

Bird’s Nest Custody

 
Bird’s nest custody is a joint custody arrangement where the children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out.

 

Can someone other than the parents have physical or legal custody?

 
Sometimes neither parent can suitably assume custody of the children, perhaps because of a substance abuse or mental health problem. In these situations, others may be granted custody of the children or given a temporary guardianship or foster care arrangement by a court.