Understanding Child Custody Choices

When two people divorce, the way they deal with child custody can have great ramifications. Unless the two agree, contentious issues like child custody can turn divorce into a battleground. Even when you and your spouse agree on what is best for your child, the choices you make will continue to affect you and your child for many years. You might be puzzled when you find out how many choices you have before you when dealing with child custody. Read on for an overview of these choices so that you can identify what works best for you, your soon-to-be ex, and your child.

Legal Child Custody

This term covers not who the child resides with but the legal responsibility. Just as the situation exists with all parents before they divorce, legal custody may be divided equally between both parties. In only but the rarest of cases is legal custody provided to only one party. For example, if one parent has been convicted of child abuse, the other parent may be given full legal custody of the child.

For others, a 50/50 split in legal custody means that both parents work together to make the best decisions possible for the child regardless of the divorce. Often the divorce paperwork that deals with this issue will read "joint legal custody," and that means the parents both decide on matters of discipline, religion, education, and all other important matters. The child might reside primarily with one parent, but this phrasing in the agreement ensures equal powers to both parents.

Physical Custody

As you might have guessed, physical custody is concerned with the living arrangements of the child. In most cases, one parent is chosen to be the physical custodian of the child. Often, the parent who receives the family home is also awarded physical custody of the child. When one parent gets physical custody, the other parent must pay child support. This is also known as sole custody. Some variations on physical custody include the following:

50/50 or Shared Custody—The child lives somewhat equally with both parents when this parenting plan is used. The way the time is split depends on your own preferences and will be approved by the judge as long as the schedule takes into account the best interest of the child. Here, the child lives part of the time with one parent and part of the time with the other parent. While this manner of dividing up custody provides the child with a lot of contact with both parents, it can get confusing.

Bird's Nesting—This is actually a variation on shared custody where the parents take turns living in a home with the child. When the parent takes a break from living with the child, they live in another home. Then they switch. This form of shared custody can be expensive for the parents, but shared expenses may make the plan work best for all.

Speak to a divorce attorney who can help you make the best decision.