Types of Custody
There are two types of custody, physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody concerns with which parent the child will live with primarily. Legal custody concerns decision making authority on various matters concerning the child's upbringing such as religion, education, extracurricular activities, and medical decisions.
The court may award joint or sole custody in either physical and/or legal custody. Joint physical custody arrangements custody is shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child has substantially equal time and contact with both parents. Joint legal custody means that both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child with one parent having final decision-making authority for each of the major decision areas: medical, education, extracurricular, and religion.
Determining Child Custody
A judge will determine child custody based on what is in the best interest of the child. That is decided by looking at various factors, such as:
- parent's desire and ability to care for the child
- emotional bond between the child and both parents
- willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close continuing parent-child relationship with the other parent
- parent's knowledge and familiarity with the needs and routine of the child
- the type of home environment that the parent can provide
- parent's involvement in the child's educational and extracurricular activities
- the parent's past performance and abilities for future performance of parenting responsibilities
If the child is more than 14 years of age, the judge can consider the choice of the child for custody, however, the choice is presumptive and must be determined to be in the best interests of the child. If the best interest of the child are not readily apparent, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem, to represent the best interests of the child. The guardian ad litem will obtain custody and psychological evaluations and provide guidance to the court as to the best interests of the child.
Visitation & Parenting Plans
The court considers it important for a child to maintain relationships with both parents and visitation rights are often awarded to the parent who does not have physical custody of the child. A parenting plan will have to be put in place that will cover in detail who will make decisions concerning medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religion. The plan will also detail logistical issues such as where the child will be during holidays and birthdays, transportation to and from visitation with the other parent, vacations and school breaks, and how the parents will resolve disagreements on decision making.