child custodyThere are many reasons why parents may want or opt for joint or sole custody. Custody or visitation arrangements can be categorized in many ways and terms surrounding custody are often interchangeable and that’s when it can get confusing.

Joint and shared custody are generally the same thing, sole custody and physical custody are also usually synonyms. However it is possible to have sole legal custody. This term refers to the parent who has the legal right to make the decisions. For the purpose of clarity this article will refer to the terms as sole legal custody, joint legal custody, sole physical custody and joint physical custody.

Sole legal custody can come as a consensual agreement due to the fact that it makes sense for the parent who has the majority time share with the child to make the important day to day decisions. It would be irrational to assume otherwise. If you live with your child you should have a say on the significant aspects of their life; education, health, values etc. The difference between sole legal custody and sole physical custody is that amicable parents often co-parent and share the decision making responsibilities for their child (joint legal custody), yet the child technically only lives with one of them (sole physical custody).

Pros and cons of each
Joint legal custody

Communication with your ex-partner is a huge factor in co-parenting, if you can communicate and consult with them it makes sense to share legal custody and partake in joint decision making. Involving both parents is usually the best course of action, it benefits your children by them having both parents play a hugely active part in their lives and unless there are specific circumstances courts will usually rule in that way.

That doesn’t mean working together will be easy! The drawback of joint legal custody is that you have to agree! If there are past emotions such as bitterness and pain, neither party will want to be the one to compromise. Additionally you will have to reach an agreement on what constitutes an important decision or one parent may feel aggrieved at being left out of a certain choice made in their absence.

Sole legal custody and sole physical custody

Exceptional circumstances are good reasons for sole custody. This would include highly aggressive, abuse or violent behavior on the part of the other parent, complete absence or problems with alcohol/drug abuse. Supervised visitation is an option if you have sole legal and physical custody and your ex-partner has displayed the high risk behaviors outlined previously. It is not advisable to seek sole legal custody and control over decision making just because you don’t want to communicate or discuss matters with your ex. The children’s best interests always come first.

Joint physical custody

If both parents live in the vicinity and work allows for a regular shared schedule, plus you can communicate without conflict then joint physical and joint legal custody could be the best option. Joint physical custody maximizes a child’s time with both their parents and consequently helps the parent child relationship blossom for both mom and dad.

However if one parent has to travel a lot with work or lives far away it could make sense to opt for joint legal custody but sole physical custody. Sole physical custody doesn’t mean that one parent will never see their child though; you will just work out a practical visitation schedule that works for everyone and potentially long distance. Joint physical custody could cause issues at school if it involves a lot of travel and also may deprive your child of a sense of routine or stable home.

Which custody situation is most beneficial and suitable for your child and family is highly dependent on your individual circumstances. Joint physical and legal custody often appear the most idyllic arrangements on paper but that all depends on how agreeable your relationship is with your ex-partner!

Krishan Smith is the new senior editor at Custody X Change, a custody software specialist company.