Child custody is perhaps the most significant aspect of family law. Parents who believe a child custody issue will arise should seek out legal counsel at the earliest opportunity. Important ground work in preparation of the case can occur even prior to a separation. Sometimes settlement agreements can be reached resolving custody and visitation disputes before the parties separate. On occasion mediation may be an appropriate vehicle for resolution of such issues.
Legal custody is the right to make long range and important decisions pertaining to the child(ren). Many separating couples are able to agree on joint legal custody. Joint legal custody is akin to the way a mother and father raise a child(ren) in an intact family. The mother and father jointly make decisions regarding the well being of their child(ren). A key factor the courts will look for in deciding whether joint legal custody will work is the ability of the parties to work together, cooperate, communicate and reach shared decisions in the best interest of their minor child or children.
Physical custody may be shared or may be sole. Sole physical custody implies that the alternate parent will have a limited visitation role in the physical division of time with the child(ren) between the parents. The ability of the parties to communicate and reach shared decisions is essential in a shared physical custody arrangement. It is also beneficial that the parties live in close proximity to one another, preferably within the same school district. The parties must be able to set aside feelings of animosity related to the separation and the divorce and adult matters from their role as joint custodians and parents. Joint legal and shared physical custody is the most desirable custody arrangement if the parties are able to manage it between themselves. Sometimes issues such as domestic violence, drug or alcohol addictions, mental health issues or the unavailability or alienation of a parent render this custodial arrangement impractical.