It used to be when parents got divorced, the mother always got custody of the children, and the father had to pay child support and was granted some visitation. But times are changing as states recognize the importance fathers hold in their children’s life. So what are the different types of custody?
Child custody laws vary from state to state, but they have a lot of similarities. Typically, there are two types of custody, physical and legal custody, with four categories of physical custody. They are sole physical custody, split custody, joint physical custody, and physical custody with visitation. Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
What Is Legal Custody?
Legal custody refers to the parent’s decision-making ability regarding the child’s well-being. The parent that has legal custody will be the one who decides things such as their education, religious upbringing, and, if necessary, medical care. The parent with legal custody does not necessarily have to have physical custody.
Sometimes parents will share legal custody. When parents are awarded joint legal custody, it means that even though the other parent may not have joint physical custody, they will still have a say in the major decision-making process with significant issues that develop as the child ages.
The Different Types of Physical Custody
Sole Physical Custody
In the case of sole physical custody, the child lives in one physical environment. However, it does not mean that the other parent has no say in anything that pertains to the child. Both parents still are responsible for the child, and both share the responsibility for the child’s legal needs. Also, the other parent can still have visitation rights. The child is just not sharing their physical home.
Split Physical Custody
As in the name, both parents have provided a home for the child, and the child spends time at both addresses. However, just because the parents split physical custody equally, it does not mean that they both share equal legal custody.
This arrangement is the easiest to grant unless the judge deems one parent not fit to provide a home for the child.
Joint Physical Custody
Joint (or shared as it is sometimes called) custody is a little different because there is more of a specific schedule of equal time whereby the children will spend with each parent. When this happens, both parents generally try to live within the same school district, so not much will change for the child as they shuffle back and forth from one home to another.
Physical Custody With Visitation
In this instance, one parent generally has total physical custody, but there are scheduled times for the other parent to have visitation. When I grew up, my mother had sole physical custody of me, but I spent one weekend a month with my father. This is an example of physical custody with visitation.
What Are the Advantages of Having Joint Custody?
- If the parents are amicable, it can be positive for the child. Children undergo a tremendous amount of stress when they learn their parents are splitting up. If they know that they will continue to see each parent a lot of the time, it could help them better adjust to the new arrangement.
- The child will get to spend quality alone time with each parent. You will each still be able to make lasting memories with your child and be there for all the important events and struggles they will go through over the years. You will also both be able to have an influence on your child and instill values you each cherish.
- It will help lessen the guilt you may feel. Let’s face it. Half of the stress you are going through by separating from your partner is the guilt you feel over what you are doing to your children. Kids often feel rejected when their parents divorce, and they sometimes feel as if it is their fault. They will most likely go through a phase where they are anxious, fearful, or even depressed. Yet knowing that your child will have joint access to both parents will help you deal with the guilt as you prove to your children that they are not losing either of their parents.
- Daily responsibilities are shared. With joint custody, both parents share the responsibilities of daily child-rearing as well as expenses and decisions. If the relationship between both parents is decent, it will be less stressful making decisions for your children as, hopefully, you both will have your children’s best interests at heart.
- Financial responsibilities are shared. When you have joint custody, both parents share the financial aspects of raising your child. This not only includes food, clothing, and shelter, but also school trips, special events, and sports activities that may come up when your child is with you.
- Your child is on a schedule. Sometimes having a strict schedule that is basically adhered to provides stability for a child, especially a child who has experienced some upheaval. It helps them know that though life made a sudden change, the new way will be consistent. It can even help them feel more relaxed and in control.
- Time off for each parent. This may be something that you never got to experience when you were married. Now, when your children are with the other parent, it will force you to have time just for yourself. You may even be able to pursue other activities such as school or a hobby you’ve always wanted to do.
What Are the Disadvantages of Having Joint Custody?
- The trauma that divorce can bring. Having their parents split up can be very traumatic for the children. And it can be even more so if the parents don’t get along and are fighting all the time. This will impact their adjustment even further. If the parents argue a lot and have poor communication, the child can sometimes feel stuck in the middle.
- The shuffling back and forth. Though it is good for the children to spend time with both parents, it can be particularly disruptive to the child, especially if it happens a lot within the week. They will often leave homework at one home or a sports uniform in the dirty laundry at the other. This way of living adds stress to your child.
- Disorganized schedules. If both parents are unable to maintain a consistent schedule when the child is at each of their homes, it can cause more problems. Schedule conflicts could cause a child to miss play practice or a basketball game. And along with the scheduling conflicts can come an increase in relationship conflicts between the parents, which results in more arguments.
- Increased expenses for daily living. When children are living in two different homes, each home may need to be equipped with items the child will need access to all the time. For example, if a child takes piano lessons and is serious about continuing, it may mean that both homes need to be equipped with a piano.
- Any change in routine is stressful. The change that divorce brings is incredibly stressful for the parents. It is even more so for the children. And children have fewer ways to manage their stress due to not having had the time to develop coping strategies. Kids do better with consistency and routine, especially younger children. The constant going back and forth from one home to another will take its toll on the kids.
Ways to Help Your Children (And You) Adjust to the New Routine
Shared custody works best when the parents cooperate and behave respectfully toward each other, both when around each other and when they are separate. If the parents appear in control of the situation and work amicably together, it will go a long way in how well the children adjust to the change.
Steps Parents Can Take
1. Watch How You Talk About Your Ex
However you may feel about your ex, your children must never hear you speak badly about him or her. They love you both and will not only feel bad for the parent being talked about, but they can also feel torn. They can end up wanting to take care of the parent who is belittled, a role they are not prepared for nor do they deserve.
Overall, it is best to keep any ill will you may feel toward your ex to yourself when your children are around and save your destressing talks for your good friends or a therapist.
2. Keep the Focus of the Joint Custody Arrangement on Your Children
Remember, this is not about you. The divorce was about you and your ex, but the custody is about your children and what is best for them.
3. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Be realistic about what you say you can and can’t do. This isn’t about trying to one-up your ex and make yourself out to be the better parent. Your number one goal is to help your kids recover from the change and learn to thrive in the process.
4. Remember that a Bad Spouse Doesn’t Mean a Bad Parent
Just because your ex treated you one way does not mean they will treat their child the same. The relationships are very different, and your child needs to feel loved by both parents. Your ex may not love you as they used to, but most likely, they love your children as much as you do.
5. Choose Your Battles Wisely
Divorce is very stressful for your children. Try to remember this when you want to argue over every little thing. You may need to take a step back and consider what it is that is bothering you and ask yourself, “In the scheme of things, is this issue really worth the battle?” If it is, then find healthy ways to work through your differences. If it’s not, then let it go.
6. Make Sure Your Child Feels Heard
Sometimes this can make all the difference in the world. Getting caught in the middle of the conflict can make your child feel invisible, and they can sink into depression. Yet if you give them a chance to talk about how they feel and how they would like for things to go and are willing to try to adjust things for them if possible, they will feel like they still matter, both parents still love them, and even though things are changing, you will all go through the change together.
I know this is hard work, but in the long run, following these steps will prove beneficial to you, your ex, and your children.
- 10 Most Common Causes of Divorce
- 10 of the Best Online Divorce Services for a DIY Divorce in the USA
- Should Fathers Get Paternity Leave?
- Family Law Explored – What are the Different Types of Family Law?
Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.