For many people, becoming a parent is one of the best times of their lives. As a family lawyer can explain, you only want what’s best for your child, but sometimes what you think is best isn’t want your co-parent believes is best. For this reason, it’s important to understand the different types of child custody and what you can do to ensure you have rights to your children.
Physical vs. Legal Custody
If you want your child to live with you, you’ll need a judge to grant you physical custody. Being the custodial parent means you will be responsible for ensuring your child has clean clothes, a bed, food on the table, and gets to school and medical appointments on time when necessary. Depending on your work schedule and the age of your child, you may also need to find childcare.
Although most of the time, parents who have physical custody also have legal custody, legal custody is technically a different situation. In fact, even if your child lives with you, your co-parent may have legal custody that requires you to make joint decisions about legal matters such as where your child will go to school, what type of medical care he or she will receive, and whether he or she will have a religious upbringing.
Joint vs. Sole Custody
In addition to deciding who has physical and legal custody, the judge also decides whether one parent has sole custody or both parents have a joint custody agreement. If one parent is unfit due to neglect or abuse charges or problems with drugs and alcohol, then the other parent is likely to receive sole custody. The parent who cannot have custody of the child may still have supervised visitation rights, depending on the situation.
When both parents are fit to take care of a child, courts generally prefer to award joint custody. This is especially true if the parents live near each other. Common joint custody arrangements include spending weekdays with one parent and weekends and holidays with the other. Many judges also award custody in alternating weeks, months, or years, so the child lives with one parent full-time for a while and then the other full-time for a while.
Even if you don’t foresee a problem coming to a custody agreement with your spouse, it is a good idea to hire a child custody lawyer to help you through the process. He or she will understand the intricacies of your state’s custody laws and knows how to work to ensure the child’s needs are met. If you and your co-parent disagree about how your child should be raised, or if you know your co-parent has hired a lawyer, it is especially important to hire someone who can help you fight for your rights. Contact a child custody lawyer in your area to get the help you need.