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Physical? Legal? Joint? Sole? Child Custody Terminology

Determining child custody can be one of the most contentious parts of the divorce process. And like many other aspects of the divorce process, individuals attempting to navigate the nuances of family law can feel that child custody is a littered minefield of legal jargon that does not seem to relate to the day-to-day realities of child custody: who keeps the children on weekends, who has them for Christmas day, and when does one’s ex-spouse need to drop kids off again.

The first step in making sure that you can be comfortable with a custody or parenting plan is to be sure that you understand the related terminology. Below is an explanation of some common child custody terms:

Legal Custody

Legal custody is a general term; if you have legal custody of your children, you are responsible for making parenting decisions regarding your children’s lives. You likely determine when, where, and how they receive an education, medical care, religious or spiritual influences, etc., and you provide for their basic needs. Legal custody is not just granted to one parent after a divorce or separation. Both divorced parents may have legal custody (called “joint legal custody”) and is a preferred arrangement in Florida (because Florida courts strongly prioritize finding a way to give both parents somewhat equal influence over how their children are raised and, in turn, finding a way to give children the benefit of the influence of two parents). Joint legal custody can be extremely stressful, however, for parents who cannot collaborate to make parenting decisions.

Physical Custody

Physical custody, according to its most basic definition, simply refers to who cares for the children on a regular basis and where the children generally live. One parent may have sole physical custody even if the other parent spends a roughly equal amount of time with the children. If that is the case, the parent with sole physical custody has different rights and obligations than the parent without physical custody (so never buy an ex’s or an ex’s attorney’s statement that it does not matter which parent has sole physical custody as long as both parents are going to share time roughly equally). For instance, the parent with sole physical custody often can move away with the kids, leaving the parent without physical custody the limited option of petitioning the court to prevent the move.

Joint Custody

As discussed above, legal and physical custody can be modified and can be joint and sole. Joint physical and legal custody is often preferred by the courts in the majority of cases, particularly in Florida, though joint custody does not always mean both parents will be sharing the time with children in a 50/50 fashion.

Sole Custody

The opposite of joint custody, one parent may receive sole physical or legal custody. While courts are less likely to favor forms of sole custody, sole custody may be quite appropriate in cases in which the parents are unable to cooperate and follow a proper timesharing schedule, if one parent or spouse has a protective order against the other, or in other extenuating circumstances.

Determining child custody can be a difficult and emotional process. At Schwartz | White in Boca Raton, qualified family lawyers are experienced in navigating child custody. Put that experience to work for you. Call 561-391-9943 today for a consultation.

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