The Different Types of Child Custody

When a couple has decided to legally end their marriage, several important factors must be sorted out before they have the chance to move on separately. This includes making decisions about property division, debt allocation, and child custody.

Making decisions about these contentious issues is usually never an easy task. When parents going through a divorce cannot reach a mutual decision about child custody, that’s when a family law attorney comes in and litigation ensues. At that time, the court has to decide how the parents will share custody of their children and the attorney will make sure that the type of child custody arrangement is right for the parents and parties involved.

Types of Child Custody

Two basic types of child custody must be accounted for in any child custody agreement. These two types of custody are legal custody and physical custody, then they must be further defined by whether or not they apply to one parent, sole custody, or both, joint custody. These types of child custody can be defined in any possible combination. For example, a child custody agreement may order one co-parent to have sole legal custody while also ordering joint physical custody of the child.

Physical Custody

Physical custody simply refers to a parent’s responsibility to house their child and make decisions on their behalf on a day-to-day basis. This means that either one or both parents would be responsible for providing protection, a suitable home environment, and any necessary amenities. In Florida, a judge will typically rule in favor of shared physical custody so that each parent would have the opportunity to spend time with their child on a regular basis.

Legal Custody

When it comes to legal custody, however, it is a parent’s ability to make major life decisions that differentiate the two. Legal custody simply refers to a parent’s right to make decisions about their child’s well-being. For example, having legal custody would give a parent the freedom to make choices about their child’s education, religious practices, and medical treatment – regardless of whether or not they were concurrently afforded physical custody. Being able to make such decisions is an elemental part of being a parent, so it is important that you fight for the legal rights that you deserve.

Sole Custody

Sole custody simply means that only one co-parent has custody of the child. Sole custody can be applied to either legal custody or physical custody, meaning that only one co-parent has physical custody or legal custody of the child. If parents are unable to agree about the particulars of their child’s upbringing due to conflict, a judge may grant sole legal custody to one co-parent. This may be done to prevent the family from returning to court for every disagreement.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is just the opposite. It means that both co-parents share either physical custody or legal custody of the child. When joint legal custody is ordered, both parents have a legal right to be a part of important decision-making processes. How co-parents navigate this joint responsibility day-to-day, however, is frequently determined by a family’s preferences. Nevertheless, if one co-parent excludes the other from these important decisions, they may potentially have to return to court for violating their court order.

Often times, it’s common for custody arrangements to order joint physical custody. This is in large part due to a consensus that spending significant, quality time with both parents benefits the health and happiness of children in the long-run. It is important to note that joint physical custody does not require that a child spend equal amounts of time with both parents. Rather, it means that the child spends significant time with both co-parents.

Going through a divorce is a difficult process on its own, so understanding the different types of child custody and what options you have available can reduce your stress and make the transition easier on your child. If you need legal representation for your family law matters, contact the Law Office of Joseph Cerino today.


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The law office of Joseph Cerino handles all matters of litigation, concentrating in family law including divorce, custody, child support, paternity, alimony, property division and domestic violence, as well as, criminal defense and appeals in Southwest Florida.

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