Divorce affects everyone in a family: You, your spouse, your children and even your pets. When it comes to raising a child after divorce, you and your spouse will have to decide on a child custody agreement. This may decide if you see your children on weekdays or weekends, for holidays and vacations — or if you only have visitation rights.
Unless you and your co-parent can agree on the arrangements you want, a judge will decide how custody and visitation rights best benefit a child. Child custody agreements establish which parents control how their child is raised. There are several kinds of custody that may be considered, and it's wise to understand the terminology surrounding them.
Which custody situation is best for you and your child?
Working out a custody order isn't always easy and there are many options for parents to go through:
- Legal custody: A parent who has legal custody ultimately decides how a child is raised. Legal custody allows a parent to call the shots on schooling, dietary restrictions, religious services, medical treatment and more.
- Physical custody: Conversely, a parent with a physical custody order will likely see their child daily or have shared parenting. The parent with physical custody is sometimes called the “custodial parent” or a “primary caretaker” when the other parent only has visitation.
- Sole custody: A court may decide that only one parent is fit for legal and/or physical custody – this is called sole custody. The court usually only awards sole legal or physical custody when there are serious disputes between parents or one parent has problems that make the court question their parenting skills.
- Joint custody: Alternatively, parents may decide together what's best for their child under joint custody. This could mean splitting up physical custody and finding balance in a legal custody agreement. This requires good co-parenting skills and a focus around what's truly best for the child.
Every family is different, so the custody situation that's right for one may not be right for the other. Creating a custody order can turn into a battle – you may need to get legal guidance when considering your options.