When it comes to child custody, there is much confusion, including the difference between sole and joint custody. Taking a moment to understand some of the complexities of the issue will not only help clear some of the confusion but will help parents better understand how to get along with one another.
Types of Custody
Custody is generally defined as the care, control and maintenance of a child. However, while it is a simple concept it is complicated because custody breaks down into two parts and two forms. The parts of custody are the legal and the physical. The two forms are sole and joint custody.
Legal custody is the right to make important decisions about the child's life, such
as medical care, school enrollment, religion and extracurricular activities. Generally legal custody is granted jointly and prevents one parent from acting unilaterally when making decisions about the child. If necessary, though, a parent can petition the court to resolve any disputes.
Physical custody refers to where the child will reside. Though this would seem to indicate that physical custody is usually granted solely to one parent or the other, the more likely scenario is that physical custody is granted jointly to both parties with a subsequent order placing the child's residence with one parent or the other.
Joint custody is the norm is custody cases. The court must consider joint custody in every case and must order it unless it is not in the best interests of the child. Joint custody though, need not necessarily be ordered for each facet of custody. It is not unusual for the parents to share joint legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody.
While joint legal/sole physical is not unusual, sole legal and physical custody is. Generally the court will only consider sole custody when it is apparent that the parents cannot work together to make decisions about the child, where one party has shown to be largely unfit or where it is in the best interests of the child for one parent to have sole legal and physical. It should be noted, though, that while the court can order sole legal custody, an order for parenting time necessarily grants the parent the responsibility of making routine and emergency decisions regarding the child that might arise during the parenting time.
Rights of Sole Custody
The main right of a custodial parent is the right to make all decisions regarding the child, free of interference from the other parent. However, while sole custody gives that parent greater power, it does not give unlimited power. Indeed, that parent would still need to comply with parenting time orders, would still be limited as to changing the child's domicile and would still be required to keep the other parent apprised about the child's health, well-being, education and extracurricular activities.
Although laws are similar they do vary from state to state. Always consult with a licensed attorney if you have any questions.
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