As you prepare to submit your custody and visitation orders to the court, remember that a well-thought-out parenting plan – created either in agreement with the party or on your own – can significantly streamline and facilitate the custody/visitation process. Once you have determined what custody and visitation orders will work best for you and your children, the next step is to file the correct paperwork and begin the custody/visitation order process.
There are two types of child custody arrangements: legal and physical. Legal custody allows one or both parents to make all important decisions regarding the children’s healthcare, education, and welfare. Legal custody can be either joint (allowing both parents an equal say in all important decisions) or sole (one parent has sole right and responsibility regarding the child’s health care, education, and welfare). Legal custody allows the parent or parents to decide where the child will attend school (or child care) and whether the child can participate in religious or extracurricular activities. A parent with legal custody will have the final say regarding doctors, psychiatrists, and other health care professionals. Legal custody also allows one or both parents final say on travel, summer camp, and the child’s primary residence.
Though parents may share legal custody, complete agreement on all decisions is not required. With shared legal custody, either parent can make their own decision regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child without consulting with the other parent. Nevertheless, in order to avoid additional litigation and appearance in front of the judge, it is in both parties’ best interest to keep the lines of communication open and make any decisions in a considered and thoughtful manner.
Like legal custody, physical custody can also be divided into sole and joint custody. Joint custody does not require that the child spend equal time with each parent, though if the child spends a majority of time with one parent the court may name that parent the “primary custodial parent.” Joint custody requires a significant commitment to cooperation and communication between both parents. If your relationship is relatively amicable, and you feel capable of sustaining frequent interactions with your former spouse, then joint physical custody can be the right fit. If there is any chance that regularly interacting with the other parent will cause stress or trauma to you or the child, it may be preferable to seek sole physical custody with visitation orders.
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