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What is Custody?

In family law, custody refers to the legal right to care for a child, usually given to a child’s mother or father after a divorce. The party or parties in custody are responsible for the child's education, religious upbringing, and health care. Following a divorce, the court will determine child custody arrangements. 

Typically, parents will claim joint guardianship over a child that they had during marriage. In these cases, both spouses will have equal custody over the child. However, in some situations, sole custody will be granted to just one of the spouses. 

The court aims to reach a custody arrangement in “the best interests of the child.” Although the meaning of this phrase varies from state to state, some common factors taken into consideration while setting custody are the age and gender of the child, general health of the parents and child, nature of the relationship between the parents, and the abilities of the parents to provide for the financial needs of the child. 

Key Takeaways

  • Custody is a legal guardianship term regarding the right or duty to care for a child.
  • There are several different types of child custody including joint custody, sole custody, legal custody, and physical custody.
  • Joint custody is usually given to both parents following a divorce.
  • In some cases, sole custody is granted to one parent.

Types of Custody

  1. Physical Custody - This type of custody refers to where a child will physically live. In physical sole custody cases, the child will reside with only one parent, and the other parent may be able to see the child if visitation policies allow. This is usually only relevant in cases where one parent or the parent’s home is deemed unfit to care for the child, for example, if there is evidence of a drug addiction or child abuse. Joint physical custody means that the child will move back and forth from the parents’ residences. 
  2. Legal Custody - Legal custody gives a parent or parents the right to make critical, long-term decisions regarding a child’s life. This can include decisions concerning matters such as healthcare, religious practices, and education. Unlike physical custody, legal custody has nothing to do with where the child lives. In sole legal custody, one parent has full responsibility to make major decisions for the child. Joint legal custody situations allow for both parents to make decisions on behalf of the child. In these cases, both parents share responsibility in the care of a child and are actively involved in the child’s upbringing. 

Bottom Line

Child custody is considered to be one of the most difficult issues to resolve in a divorce, since it refers to the life and wellbeing of the child. Family attorneys that specialize in child custody arrangements can be incredibly helpful in dealing with these matters and advocating for you and your child’s best interests.

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