Understanding the Different Types of Child Custody: A Comprehensive Guide

Going through a divorce can be an emotional rollercoaster, especially when you share children with your spouse. Whether your divorce was contentious or you and your ex are on amicable terms, custody can bring up an array of feelings of which your divorce might not have even scratched the surface. This is because an individual’s ability to maintain a strong relationship with their children is one of the most crucial factors they will address following their divorce. A thorough understanding of the ins and outs, and ups and downs, of custody is an excellent way to ensure that the right steps are being taken to guarantee a positive outcome in your custody arrangement. Below we’ll dive into the different types of custody so you and your former spouse can create an arrangement that is in the best interest of your child.

Types of Child Custody

There are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to with which parent a child/children will physically and primarily reside with. Legal custody refers to which parent will make important decisions regarding things like education, healthcare, religion, and more on behalf of the child/children.

With both types of custody comes a second tier of designations: sole or joint custody. Sole custody means the child/children will live with one parent and the other will be allowed visitation. Joint custody means that they will live with both parents, dependent upon whatever schedule is worked out between the two parties. This arrangement will look different for every individual family.

Pros & Cons of Sole & Joint Custody

On the positive side, joint custody promotes ongoing involvement of both parents in a child’s life, fostering a sense of stability and emotional support. However, it may also require effective co-parenting, which can be challenging for high-conflict relationships. Understanding these advantages and potential challenges is crucial for creating a custody arrangement that truly benefits the child’s best interests.

Joint Custody Pros

  • Promotes ongoing involvement of both parents in a child’s life – Studies show that children who live and share time with both parents are more well adjusted than those who do not.
  • Eases the impact of your divorce on your children – As much as divorce is a huge change for you, it’s even bigger for your child. Studies show that children of divorce are much more likely to have socio-emotional, academic and mental health concerns. Having both parents involved can help ease the disruption that your divorce can have on your children’s lives, and lessen the likelihood for these concerns and provide your children with more emotional stability.

Joint Custody Cons

  • Instability in your child’s life as they bounce between two homes – While shared time can be beneficial, it’s still a disruption, as has already been stated.
  • A non-compliant or highly conflictive co-parent might manipulate your children into thinking you’re the bad guy – Unfortunately, not every parent is going to strive to strengthen their child’s relationship with their other parent. Sometimes, they’ll try to pit them against each other which can put a strain on the bond with your children. They may also make it difficult for you to schedule a time to “trade off.”
  • Children tend to feel like they’re caught in the middle – Despite their age, children are incredibly perceptive, and even if you don’t get into verbal altercations with their co-parent, they can sense tension. In fact, when children see conflict between their parents, it can cause them to experience cardiac stress. 

Sole Custody Pros

  • Consistency – When you have sole custody of your child, the back and forth between two homes isn’t a factor, thus causing less disruption to your child’s life.
  • Decision making is in your hands If you and your spouse agree on sole custody, or a judge appoints it, making important decisions is left to you. Therefore you can avoid having to mutually agree with their co-parent anytime a school, health or religious matter arises.
  • Minimal or even no-contact with abusive/neglectful co-parent – If your co-parent has a history or pattern of abuse or neglect, you don’t have to expose your children to them – unless, for some reason, it’s been ordered by the court and there are protections in place to minimize damaging exposure.

Sole Custody Cons

  • Children raised by single parents face a reduced likelihood of achieving upward financial mobilityYour children’s ability to earn a living can be influenced by having only you or their other parent as their sole guardian.
  • Resentment can build between a parent who has all the decision making abilities and the one who does not. 
  • Parenting alone can be lonely – In addition to losing a spouse, sole custody results in the loss of a co-parent, so you might find yourself lacking in emotional support in addition to physical support.

Legal Considerations in Child Custody

Should you and your former spouse be willing to take advantage of mediation, which allows you to reach an agreement about the terms of your custody arrangement on your own, getting the court and a judge (who doesn’t know you or your child) involved can be avoided. However, that isn’t always a feasible option. If that is the case for your family, you should be aware of the legal considerations that a judge might take when evaluating your situation and determining what’s in your children’s best interests. A few things that they will examine includes:

  • Whether a parent can meet the children’s needs
  • The nature of the children’s relationship with both parents
  • Any history or abuse and/or neglect
  • Living situation
  • The children’s relationship with any siblings.
  • The child/children’s preference if they’re of age/maturity to have one
  • And more.

If you’re going to take away anything from this blog, let it be this: custody arrangements aren’t one-size-fits-all. Every situation is unique, just like your children’s needs. What has worked for your friends or family who’ve gone through something similar might not work for you. That’s why it’s crucial to work with an experienced family law attorney who can evaluate your circumstances and offer you personalized legal guidance to help you reach the best possible outcome.  

How Foxtrot Family Law Can Help

At Foxtrot Family Law, we pride ourselves in our ability to help families navigate complex, contentious custody and other familial matters. We have the experience and the skillset to help you create or fight for a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of your children and your family. Call today to request a consultation and learn about your next steps.

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