When couples with children divorce or split up, they encounter new legal terminology such as "joint custody." But what exactly does that mean in legal and practical terms?
Unlike sole custody where one parent has exclusive legal rights concerning their child, with joint custody parents share these rights.
Distinctions between joint custody and sole custody rest upon what legal rights either parent possesses concerning their child. In joint custody arrangements, parents share rights to make the major decisions in their child's life. In sole custody arrangements, parents do not share such rights.
Legal Custody in Joint Custody Arrangements
In any discussion of custody arrangements, it is important to address legal custody. When a parent possesses legal custody, they hold the authority to make major decisions affecting their child's life. Major decisions tend to be those related to religious education, choice of schools, extracurricular activities, and health care. However, other areas of your child's life may also qualify as such, too. It is important to check with your attorney regarding what officially qualifies as "major" when trying to determine the areas of your child's life over which you hold decision-making authority in a joint custody arrangement.
In joint custody arrangements, parents share the right to make such major decisions. Interference with your child's other parent's participation in this decision-making process can result in your being held in contempt of court. It is the equal sharing of legal rights to make such major decisions that makes any custody arrangement a joint one.
Joint custody can take a variety of forms, and each state has its own laws on the subject.
Official Terminology for Time Spent with a Child
In most states, time spent with your child in joint custody arrangements is officially referred to as "timesharing," "parenting time," or "visitation." While many people may refer to such an arrangement as "joint physical custody," that term is not an official one for characterizing aspects of visitation in custody arrangements where legal rights regarding major decisions in the child's life are jointly assigned.
One Common Custody Arrangement
One common type of joint custody is characterized by both parents being entitled to equal time spent with their child, while both parents at the same time share rights to make all major decisions in their child's life. In these arrangements, the child will spend some portion of time living with each parent, and the parents will cooperatively make decisions about the child's upbringing and welfare in a way that is similar to when they were married (legal custody).
Example: Mother and Father arrange a schedule where Child lives with each parent for one week at a time, and they agree that they will decide together on all major issues concerning Child's welfare and upbringing (legal custody).
Other Forms of Joint Custody
There are also other joint-custody arrangements parents may encounter. One involves sharing legal custody but not equal physical contact with or care of the child. This could mean that the child might live with one parent, while both parents agree to cooperatively make decisions about raising the child.
Example: Mother and Father decide that they will make decisions together on all major issues concerning Child's welfare and upbringing (legal custody), but Child will live with Mother, with Father entitled to visitation. With visitation rights, a parent is entitled to a certain amount of time with their child.
Other variations of joint custody also exist. For example, one parent may be granted the sole right to make decisions about the child's education, even though the child lives with both parents on an alternating schedule.
Get Professional Legal Help with Your Child Custody Dispute
If you're facing a legal battle over child custody, it's helpful to have a qualified lawyer representing and advising you. A child custody lawyer can assist you in obtaining the best possible result for you and your child, whether it's joint custody or some other arrangement. Get a head start today by contacting a child custody attorney near you.