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Child Custody
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Joint Custody Rights: The Basics

Parents often wish to assert joint custody rights when going through the divorce process. Joint custody results in both parents sharing in the upbringing and responsibility for rearing children in some fashion. This arrangement differs from sole or full custody, where the decisions are made by one parent or party. Courts determine whether to award joint or sole custody depending on the "best interests of the child."

Definition of Joint Custody

Joint custody can mean different things and the terminology can be confusing. It can refer to "joint legal custody" or "joint physical custody." Joint legal custody exists where the parents share decision-making authority for the child, but one parent retains primary physical custody. Joint physical custody exists where the child lives with each parent for roughly the same amount of time.

To complicate matters, different states use different terminology when describing joint custody. For example, some states use the term "shared custody" instead of "joint custody."

Parental Rights in Joint Custody

Both parents retain important rights in a joint custody arrangement. If a court awards joint legal custody, both parents have input with respect to decisions on important matters such as the childs legal status, medical care, education, religious instruction and extracurricular activities. However, the child will reside primarily with one parent.

In a joint physical custody arrangement, both parents have the right to a significant amount of actual time with the child. This means that the child will spend approximately the same amount of time with each parent. It may not be exactly equal but it will be close.

When Will the Court Award Joint Custody Rights?

Family court judges have broad discretion to award joint custody as they see fit. In many states, judges award joint custody if they think the parents will be able to cooperate and agree on major issues concerning the childs welfare.

In some states, the law favors joint custody if both parents want it. In those states, the court will award some form of joint custody unless there is clear and convincing evidence that such an arrangement will not be in the best interests of the child. Many state codes make clear that joint custody will not be awarded if one parent has been convicted of domestic violence offenses.

It is important to speak to your attorney about your preferred custodial arrangement. Child custody law is not always an easy issue to negotiate. Raw emotions often can overtake good judgment. Your attorney can help ensure the best path for you and your child. He or she also may be able to work with your spouses attorney to come up with a suitable parenting plan that will pass court review.