Reaching an intelligent resolution of child custody issues is probably the single most emotionally intense aspect of divorce cases. Ideally, parents will be able to work out custody arrangements amicably — since no aspect of divorce law is worse than a nasty custody battle and the emotional toll it inevitably takes on the children.
Divorcing spouses can decide with whom the children will live. There are two basic forms of custody — legal and physical. Legal custody centers on decision-making authority, whereas physical custody generally focuses on the child’s actual residence and the parental time-sharing and visitation allocations. Each of these can, in turn, be broken down into sole or joint custody. Not surprisingly, if the parties can’t reach their own agreement on this issue, the court will enter an order awarding custody.
Physical custody refers to where the child will physically live and which parent the child will actually live with. Legal custody refers to the decision-making process as to exactly how the child is to be reared. This includes decisions on educational, medical, religious and other major issues in the child’s life, but not day-to-day or routine parental decisions.
The parent who does not have sole physical custody usually has “reasonable” visitation rights. In other words, he or she can see the children during certain scheduled times (often alternating weekends). If the parents cannot agree, the court will set up a visitation schedule.