What Is Child Custody?


Clients often tell me they want custody of the kids, or that they are afraid because the other parent is seeking custody. It is important to understand exactly what custody is. There are two types of child custody (1) legal custody and (2) physical custody.


Legal custody refers to making decisions for the child‣s health, safety, and welfare. An example of such decisions would include: where the child goes to school, when the child gets a drivers license, if the child goes to therapy, what doctor the child sees, etc. Generally, where both parents have been involved in the child‣s life, and both parents are capable of making such decisions, legal custody will be shared by the parents and the parents will be ordered to confer with one another on such decisions.


Physical custody refers to which parent has physical responsibility of the child. I find parents often come into my office very concerned because the other parent has threatened to seek “full custody.” In most circumstances, the label placed on the custody arrangement, such as “sole custody” or “primary custody” is less important than the actual parenting plan the parties have arrived at.


Physical custody can be shared equally where both parents share physical responsibility of the children on an equal basis. This can be done in different ways depending on what is most appropriate for the child.


When physical custody is not shared, one parent will have physical custody and the child shall reside with that parent and be under that parent‣s supervision subject to the other parent‣s visitation. The “non custodial” parent‣s visitation can range anywhere from, for example, two hours every other week supervised by a professional monitor, to every other weekend and a midweek overnight every week, to three days each week.


Child custody is a complex issue and custody orders can have many implications on the way the family manages the time with the children, as well as financial issues for years to come. It is recommended that you seek the counsel of an experienced family law attorney when child custody issues arise in your case.

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