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Custody Overview

Child custody and visitation are often primary concerns of parents who are choosing to separate romantically. These also tend to be the most emotionally difficult legal processes in a divorce where minor children are involved.

Below, you will find introductory information on child custody and visitation, answers to common questions about sharing parenting time, and information on how custody decisions are made. In addition, this section also includes some practical considerations for parenting after a breakup, such as virtual visitation and how to help ease the strain of divorce on children.

The Different Types of Child Custody: Overview

Since courts cannot "split the baby," so to speak, parents are granted various types of custody with respect to dependant children. Family courts are supposed to base these decisions on the best interests of the children, rather than the personal preferences of the parents. Most courts prioritize the importance of both parents' presence in the lives of their children.

Here are the main child custody terms considered by family courts:

  • Physical Custody -- As you might guess, physical custody refers to which parent has physical possession of the child; courts rarely award one parent sole physical custody. "Physical custody" also may be called visitation, parenting time, timesharing, or parenting schedules.
  • Legal Custody — A parent with legal custody is able to make important life decisions on behalf of the child; a parent who is absent or unable to make these decisions will not be granted legal custody in most cases
  • Joint Custody -- This is the most common type of child custody, where both parents have equal decision-making over the major decisions, and if they don't agree, generally they will need to go to court and let the judge decide

Factors Affecting Custody Decisions

The guiding factor in any child custody decision is "the child's best interests," which isn't always that simple to determine. Sometimes children are independently evaluated by psychologists or social workers to help the court reach a conclusion.

State laws differ, but courts generally consider the following factors when deciding custody cases:

  • The health of the parents, both mental and physical
  • Evidence of parental substance abuse
  • Adjustment to the community and school of a given parent
  • Religious or cultural considerations
  • Stability of either home
  • Ability to interact with other relatives and extended family members
  • The child's own wishes (although they don't get a choice until they reach the age of majority, but depends on the state)

Parenting Time/Timesharing

Parenting time and timesharing is an important aspect of child custody, as it mandates times when the other parent may visit with their child. All courts will address parenting schedules if and when it is necessary, such as if the parents cannot agree. The courts will attempt to work out logistics, such as exchange time or locations. Parents who believe they are not getting fair parenting time or timesharing with their child may call for a court hearing on the matter, even after the divorce (if applicable) is finalized.

Talk to a Lawyer About Child Custody Today

Child custody can be a complicated issue to navigate. Speaking to an experienced family law attorney will help. Lawyers will provide valuable legal advice and review the law in your jurisdiction that applies to you.

Review your claim with an experienced child custody law attorney today.

Learn About Custody Overview

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Custody & child visitation cases are emotional, and a lawyer can seek the best outcome
  • A lawyer can help protect your children's interests
  • Lawyers can seek to secure visitation rights

Get tailored advice and ask a lawyer questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


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