When Florida couples with minor children decide to get divorced, child custody is oftentimes the most important – and most contentious – issue in the legal proceedings. Nothing can rile up the emotions faster than disputes over how a child will spend time, and who with. For our readers who may be contemplating divorce, or who might be in the middle of such a case, understanding the basics about child custody could help.
For starters, there are some basic terms to understand: legal custody, physical custody, joint custody and sole custody. “Legal custody” refers to which parent – or both – will get to make the major decisions about a child’s life, such as where the child will attend school or church, or what type of medical care the child will receive, for example. “Physical custody” mostly refers to where the child will live, as well as incorporating visitation schedules.
Joint custody is an arrangement that can be ordered by the family law court or agreed upon by the divorcing parents, in which both parents are responsible in mostly equal or agreed upon terms for the child at issue. Joint custody could be implemented in either legal or physical custody issues, or both. “Sole custody” is not as common, but it is an arrangement that can and does occur. In a sole custody situation, the family law court or the couple agree that only one of the parents will be responsible for decisions about the child in some respect, such as either legal or physical custody, or both.
Sole custody is usually an arrangement that is now disfavored in family law courts, because judges acknowledge that it is most often best if a child has both parents in his life. However, in cases involving allegations of abuse or drug use, for example, obviously it would not be in the child’s best interests to be with the offending parent.