What are my child custody arrangement options?

Parents considering divorce generally have questions about child custody arrangements and what is available for their child. First, it is important to differentiate between physical custody, which determines which parent has the right to have the child reside in their home, and legal custody, which determines whether one or both parents retains the right to make legal decisions regarding the child.

Parents may have sole legal and physical custody, which means the child will live with them and they will retain the right to make legal decisions for the child. Parents may also have joint legal and physical custody, which means both parents will share decision making responsibilities for the child and will retain some physical control of the child, although the child may still live primarily at one home.

To make matters even more confusing, it is not unusual for child custody agreements to have a combination of the two. This means the parents may share legal custody but one parent has been granted sole physical custody or the parents may share physical custody, but one parent retains the sole legal authority to make legal decisions.

Consider also, if you and your spouse have shared physical custody there are a variety of different options for splitting the child’s time with each parent. Plans can be developed which are customized to best fit the needs of the family and the availability of each parent.

The good news is parents generally have a chance to determine what type of parenting plan will work best for them. In fact, many parents decide to hire divorce lawyers who specialize in mediation. If you decide to use mediation there may be an option where both you and your spouse agree to hire different lawyers if an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, thus increasing the odds that both lawyers and spouses will work towards a mutually satisfying conclusion.

This is not always true, however. In very contentious divorces it is not unusual for parents to fight over child custody, generally to the detriment of the child. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will step in to help you create your plan. There are a variety of factors the court will consider but their main concern will be creating a plan which the court considers to be in the "best interest of the child."

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