When parents decide to divorce, they may worry about who will get custody of the children. In addition to determining where the child will primarily reside, parents will also have to come up with a visitation agreement that works for the whole family, while keeping the best interests of the child as a top priority. A family law attorney can help you navigate the complexities of determining child custody and make sure that your child is cared for in the best way possible.

Sole vs. joint custody

When determining custody, courts will consider both physical and legal custody of the child. Physical custody refers to which parent the child will be living with, while legal custody refers to which parent will be responsible for making major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. Both physical and legal custody can be awarded to one parent (sole custody) or both parents (joint custody).

There are many possible arrangements when it comes to awarding custody. Here are a couple of common scenarios:

  • Both parents have legal custody of the child, meaning that they both play an equal role in making decisions regarding the child’s education, religious upbringing, extracurricular activities, and medical care. However, one parent may have sole physical custody of the child, while the other is granted parenting time. In such cases, the child would reside in the house of the parent with physical custody, but spend time with the other parent on holidays, weekends, or school breaks, depending on the agreed-upon schedule.
  • Both parents have joint and legal custody of the child. This generally only works when both parents are cordial and can work together with the common goal of doing what is best for the child. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean that the child will spend 50 percent of their time at one parent’s house and 50 percent of their time residing with the other parent. For example, one parent could have the child during the school year, while the other parent could have the child during the summer.

Factors used to determine custody

Courts will consider many factors under the Child Custody Act to determine how to award custody. These factors may include:

  • The physical and mental health of each parent
  • The ability and willingness of each parent to care for the child
  • The living environment provided by each parent
  • History of drug/alcohol abuse or domestic violence
  • The child’s school and community
  • The preference of the child (if the child is old enough)
  • A parent’s ability to encourage a close relationship with the other parent

There is a lot to consider when coming up with a parenting plan that works best for your child. A family law attorney in your area can help manage any issues that come up during the process and make sure the final agreement is in your child’s best interest.