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What’s the Difference Between Sole and Shared Custody?

More and more, in divorces involving a minor child, family courts are opting for shared custody between parents whenever possible. In some states, the presumption is for shared custody, with sole custody only being awarded if proven by one parent that the other is completely unfit. It is important to understand what the differences are between sole and shared custody prior to your child custody hearing in order to determine which is the better option for you and your child.

Legal Custody and Physical Custody

Before discussing sole and shared custody, it is important to understand what legal and physical custody mean for your child. Legal custody refers to the ability of the parent to make decisions about the upbringing of the child. This includes day-to-day decisions like where the child goes to school and how often the child sees the dentist, as well as larger decisions about the child’s upbringing like what religion the child will practice and when to seek medical treatment for an issue. Physical custody refers to where the child lives. If the child is residing with a parent, then that parent has physical custody of the child. When determining whether a parent should have sole or shared custody with the other parent, the judge is making a decision about both the legal and physical custody of the child.

Sole vs Shared Custody

In a sole custody situation, one parent has both legal and physical custody of the child. That parent makes all of the decisions regarding the child’s welfare and the child lives with that parent only. The other parent may be awarded visitation rights to see the child, but the child does not live with the noncustodial parent and that parent cannot make any meaningful decisions about the child’s care. Sole custody is typically ordered by the court if either one parent is deemed unfit or if that parent lives too far away to meaningfully contribute to the child’s care.

In a shared custody situation, both parents have some type of custody over the child. This can be handled in a number of different ways. Both parents can equally share legal and physical custody of the child, where the child splits time living with each parent and they both have input as to the child’s upbringing. Another potential situation is when one parent retains legal custody of the child but the physical custody is split between both parents. Physical custody does not need to be an even 50/50 split in time between both parents, and either the court or a shared parenting agreement can determine how much time the child spends in physical custody of each parent.

Talk to a Divorce Attorney Today

If you would like to learn more about sole and shared custody, or get help determining which is the best option for your family’s situation, contact one of the family law attorneys at Kearney | Baker today at 626-768-2945.

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