What are the Basics of Child Custody

What is Child Custody?

Child custody is a term that refers to the bundle of rights and responsibilities that a parent carries with respect to his/her child. Child custody includes numerous concepts, some of which overlap and some that are distinct. The term child custody can be further broken down into terms that shed additional light and provide a greater understanding of the respective parents rights and obligations with respect to their common child.

What is Child Visitation and a "Parenting Plan?"

Custody and visitation are considered at the same time since the factors and circumstances taken into consideration by the court in making these determinations are essentially the same.

The term "child visitation" refers to the time when the non-custodial parent has the right to be with the child. The custodial parent's right to be with the child is often subject to the non-custodial parent's right to visit with the child.

The term "parenting plan" refers to the agreement between the parents or the court order which defines provisions for custody and visitation. It determines whether one or both parents has the ability to make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child. The parenting plan also defines when the child is to be with the non-custodial parent.

What Are Some Common Terms?

Legal Custody - the parent with legal custody can make all decisions regarding the health, welfare and education of the child.

Physical Custody - determines which parent has the actual, physical right to be with the child.

Sole Legal Custody - when one parent is awarded sole legal custody, that parent makes all decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child (and the other parent has no input on these decisions)

Sole Physical Custody - when one parent is given sole physical custody, the child remains with him/her and the other parent is excluded from having physical custody of the child (typically when the other parent has abused or neglected the child)

Joint Legal Custody - both parents participate in reaching decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child.

Joint Physical Custody - both parents have the ability to be with the child, typically joint physical custody is coupled with a parenting plan to determine who will be with the child at what particular time.

Shared Custody - both parents equally share the legal and physical custody of the child. Typically found only where both parents are able to resolve their personal differences and keep them in check for the sake of raising the child in a caring, nurturing environment.

What is the Difference Between Custodial Parent and Non-Custodial Parent?

The custodial parent is the term that is used for the parent that has primary physical custody of a child. Typically the child resides with the custodial parent.

The term non-custodial parent is used for the parent that has the child for a lesser amount of time. Typically the child does not reside with the non-custodial parent except during the time that the non-custodial parent exercises his/her visitation right with the child.

Typically, the child is either with the custodial parent or the non-custodial parent but not both. This arrangement comes as a result of the separation of the parents and both parents maintaining separate residences. The child resides with the custodial parent most of the time and the non-custodial parent spends time with the child during periods of child visitation.

This way, both parents get to spend time with the child despite having separate residences.

Are There Juries in Custody Cases?

No. Judges are the final decision makers.

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