Custody is a legal term that refers to your rights as a parent and your responsibility to care for your children. During your marriage, you and your spouse shared custody of the children you had together. Following your divorce, you must usually continue to share custody, but since you no longer live together, you must make alternative arrangements.
A judge can decide on custody arrangements, or you and your spouse can work them out in mediation for a judge’s approval. Because there are several types of custody, the arrangements can vary as well.
Physical versus legal custody
Arrangements must provide for both physical and legal custody of your children. Physical custody indicates where the children live and how much time they spend with each of their parents. Legal custody refers to your right to share in the making of important decisions regarding your children.
Sole versus joint custody
A judge has the option to grant physical or legal custody to one parent alone, which is sole custody, or to both parents, which is joint custody. If you have joint physical custody, your children spend roughly equal amounts of time with you and your ex-spouse. If your ex has sole physical custody, you typically get parenting time with your kids, but they live with the other parent.
Joint legal custody grants both you and your ex-spouse authority to share in the process of making important decisions on your children’s behalf, such as where they go to school and how often they see the doctor. It is typical to have joint legal custody even if either you or your ex has sole custody.
There are many different custody arrangements possible. For a plan to be acceptable to the court, it must make your children’s interests its primary concern.