Sharing child custody in light of a divorce can be one of the most upsetting experiences a parent can go through. Not only is it difficult to think about giving up time with your kids, it can be painful to know you are giving that time to your ex, who you may not like or trust any more.
However, custody plans are about protecting the best interests of your children, and kids typically benefit from having a meaningful relationship with both parents. This will often mean parents share physical and/or legal custody of the children, so it can be crucial that you understand what these mean.
Legal custody refers to the decision-making power a parent has with regard to a child. If you have legal custody, you can make major decisions about your child’s health, religion, education and other matters that require parental consent.
Courts typically award joint legal custody, which means that you and your ex each have this right and will need to make these decisions together. A parent with sole legal custody can make these decisions alone.
Physical custody refers to the placement of your child. This includes where your child lives on a daily basis, where he or she spends holidays and vacations, and how much time the child spends with each parent.
Sharing joint physical custody means that both parents spend time with the child; it does not mean they have equal parenting time. Courts will typically award parenting time to each parent, though the balance of time will depend on several factors.
Preparing for custody discussions
Understanding the difference between physical and legal custody, and knowing that courts will typically award both to parents (unless doing so is not in the best interest of the child) could help you feel more prepared for the road ahead.
However, every case is different, so legal guidance can be crucial when you are negotiating, discussing or litigating child custody. You can also discuss any fears or questions you have about your specific situation with your attorney in order to manage your expectations, assess your options and protect your parental rights.