Joint custody what does that really mean?Recently on our legal forum a user asked, "My spouse and I have filed for divorce, and we are trying to work together to create a custodial agreement which is in the best interest of our child. Can you talk about the options we have? Also, if we choose a joint physical and legal custody arrangement what does this really mean?"
Child custody agreement overview
Even if both parents have agreed to work together to create a parenting plan, developing a child custody arrangement can be one of the most complicated and emotional decisions which is made during divorce.
First, it's important to talk to a divorce lawyer. Make sure you have someone who understands the child custody laws in your state and is looking out for your best interest. The decisions you make now can affect not only where your child lives and which parent has physical custody, but whether both parents have the authority to make major life decisions for your child.
Overview of child custody options
Now, you asked about the custodial options available. To understand how child custody works it's best to think of two types of custody: legal and physical. Let's take a look at your options under each of these custodial arrangements.
Physical custody of your child
Physical custody determines the amount of time a child lives with each parent. Physical custody can be categorized as sole physical custody or joint physical custody. Sole physical custody allows one parent (i.e. custodial parent) to care of the child the majority of the time with the noncustodial parent getting some type of visitation.
Joint physical custody, however, allows both you and your spouse to care for a child at certain times. Although joint physical custody does not mean that the child's time will necessarily be divided 50/50 between each parent, it does allow both parents to be involved in the care and parenting of the child.
Legal custody of your child
Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions for a child rather than the physical care of a child. Legal custody can be categorized as sole legal custody or joint legal custody. If you and your spouse have joint legal custody both parents have the right to make decisions about the child's education, medical care, religious upbringing, travel, and other major life issues.
What does it mean to have joint custody?
Now, you asked what it means to have joint custody of your child. If you have both joint physical custody and joint legal custody of your child then not only will both of you have the right to make decisions regarding your child's life, but your child will also spend close to an equal amount of time with each of you.
The type of joint physical custody schedule you and your spouse develop, however, can vary depending on what works best for the two of you. For example, you might have the child spend alternating weeks at each parent's home or switch houses mid-week.