Child custody has many components. Some of the legal terms used to further clarify child custody include:
- Joint child custody;
- Sole legal custody; and,
- Sole physical custody.
Joint Child Custody
Joint child custody or joint legal and physical custody, is the “favored” arrangements that courts would like for parents to have with their children. A court can address child custody should the parents be unable to do so. A judge, who has wide discretion in drafting a parenting plan, will order one that is in a the “best interests of the child.”
Sole Physical Custody
A parent who is awarded sole physical custody has the exclusive right to physically care for their child. The other parent, non-custodial parent, is awarded visitation. The court must consider the best interests of the child before it awards sole physical custody to one parent. Once the court awards sole physical custody to one parent, that parent has the right to control the physical care of the child without the need to consult the other parent.
Sole Legal Child Custody
A parent with sole legal custody holds exclusive rights to make critical decisions that affect the child’s safety, health and welfare. The court must consider the best interests of the child before it awards sole legal custody to one parent. Once sole legal custody is ordered to one parent, that parent has the right to make all other decisions over the child’s life, without the other parent’s approval.
Modifying Child Custody
A request to modify child custody (the parenting plan) is undertaken after entry of a custody and visitation order. Parenting plans are often changed as children get older and their needs, interests, and activities change. Custody orders can be modified when there is a “change in circumstances.” This can happen when a parents moves, advances in their career, or remarries. To request a modification, you must show that there has been a “change in circumstances” since the final custody order was made. This means that there has been a significant change that requires a new visitation arrangement for the best interests of the children. A significant change is required because it is best for children to have stable and consistent custody arrangements with their parents. Final custody orders should only be changed if it would be best for the children.
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