Unless your child (ren) has reached the age of eighteen, custody will be an issue in your divorce. There are two separate “forms” of custody that apply to each situation — legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody refers to the ability to make major decisions regarding the child(ren)’s welfare, including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development.
With rare exceptions, parents will each have joint legal custody of the child (ren). “Joint legal custody” says nothing about, and does not affect, the amount of time the child (ren) spend with each parent.
Physical custody refers to where the child (ren) resides. Where one parent has “sole physical custody,” the child (ren) resides with and is under the supervision of that parent. The noncustodial parent has a reasonable amount of parenting time with the child (ren). Where both parents have “shared physical custody,” the child (ren) has roughly equal periods of time residing with each parent, and the parents have frequent and relatively amicable communication.
While “shared physical custody” arrangements are becoming more common, it is still more often the case that divorced parents have joint legal custody and one parent has sole physical custody. Under this type of arrangement the child (ren) visit/reside with the non-custodial parent on a particular schedule. Often that schedule includes every other weekend, perhaps some time during the week, alternating holidays and additional time during summer and school vacations.
There is no “magic formula” to determine custody (or child-related) issues. Even after the divorce, a court can modify custody based on a “material change of circumstances” and the “best interests” of the child (ren).
Also, keep in mind that you and your child (ren)’s other parent know your child (ren) best, and are therefore the most qualified to work out schedules and sharing arrangements. Lawyers and judges, as third parties and relative strangers to the family, are less able to tell you what will work best for you and your child (ren). Consequently, Attorney Vowles will explore with you all of the alternatives to a contested custody trial. When trial becomes necessary, however, you will be well-prepared for this undertaking.
Finally, you should not assume that one parent will automatically be awarded physical custody, because every case is determined by its own facts. You are encouraged to Contact Us to discuss your exact situation.