If you are in the midst of a child custody battle or you anticipate that your upcoming divorce will lead to such a battle, you might be feeling stressed out, anxious, and worried about what the potential result will be. Many child custody battles are not comprised of two parents who each want sole custody of the child; a lot of times, there are only minor disputes in terms of who gets to make which decisions and who will get more overnights with the child. Occasionally, however, one or the other parent does seek (and is sometimes awarded) sole custody. What does all of this mean? Read on to find out about the potential results of any child custody battle.
Joint Physical and Legal Custody
The most common arrangement is that both parents will have joint legal custody and joint physical custody. This should come as a relief to most parents, but sometimes there’s a misunderstanding: Contrary to popular belief, joint custody does not mean that each parent as the child exactly half of the time. Depending on the specifics of the case such as the age of the child and how far the parents live from one another, the child might spend more time at one parent’s home.
Joint legal custody means that both parents are responsible for making decisions about education, medical matters, and religion. Both parents can also access medical and educational records, as well. Sometimes both parents will disagree; this is when a tiebreaker is used. The two of you (or a judge) can decide which parent holds the tie-breaking vote for which decisions. For example, you might hold the tie-breaking vote for matters relating to education and religion, while your child’s other parent maintains the larger vote for medical decisions. This is something to talk to your legal resource group about if you anticipate a child custody battle.
Joint Physical Custody and Sole Legal Custody
Occasionally, a judge will award both parents physical custody but only one parent legal custody as the result of a child custody battle. This means that your child will spend some time living with you and some time living with your ex-spouse. When it comes to deciding where they’ll go to school, whether they will be medicated for a non-life-threatening condition, or what religion they will practice, however, that task will fall to just one parent.
It’s important to note, however, that when the parent without legal custody has the child, he or she will generally get to make the decision to take them to the doctor if they are sick or hurt. The custody agreement will stipulate whether that parent will have the rights to medical and educational records. This is not a common result of a child custody battle; most of the time, if there is joint physical custody, there is also joint legal custody.
Joint Legal Custody and Sole Physical Custody
In some cases, a child custody battle will result in both parents will be able to make decisions for their child, but only one parent will have physical custody of the child. This is sometimes the result of a divorce when one parent moves out of state and isn’t able to share physical custody of the child. (Note that in this case, the other parent generally does get visitation.) Another reason for this type of arrangement is that one parent might not be able to safely care for the child. If this is an issue, they will often get supervised visitation.
It’s important for children to be able to develop and maintain a relationship with both parents, so this type of custody agreement is made only when there’s an extenuating circumstance. If your child is safe in your care and you live within a reasonable distance, then most of the time, you will be able to have visitation with your child if not joint custody.
Sole Physical and Legal Custody
In a few cases, a parent might be awarded both sole physical custody and sole legal custody of their child. Sometimes it’s because one parent is not interested in having a relationship with the child. Other times, it’s because there’s an addiction or a history of domestic violence with one of the parents. If one parent is imprisoned, that is also a reason for sole custody to be granted to the other parent in a child custody battle.
In almost all cases, supervised or unsupervised visitation is allowed and encouraged. Keep in mind that even if your spouse gets sole custody of your child, you can usually still visit as agreed upon or as directed by the judge on the custody agreement.
The Effects of a Child Custody Battle
If your relationship with your ex-spouse is acrimonious at best during the custody battle, you might be glad to know that your relationship will likely change in the future years. First, once the stress of the legal process is over, they might be more likely to agree to an amicable relationship. Even if they don’t, there won’t be the need for fighting over custody; you can simply do what the custody agreement says without arguing over it.
It’s important to maintain a civil relationship with your child’s other parent; you will, at times, need to communicate about issues that your child is dealing with. Also, it might help to keep in mind that your child is half made up of his or her other parent. Your child loves both of you and you should not badmouth your ex. If you find that your ex is badmouthing you, bring it up with your legal resource group; parental alienation is a problem in some cases, and the court does not look at that sort of behavior kindly.
Although you are going through a painful and stressful child custody battle now, know that it will soon be over and you will have an answer as to whether you will share physical and legal custody. The important thing is that you continue to pursue a relationship with your child no matter what the legal agreement is. Whether that means regular supervised visitation, having your child more than half the time, or something in between, you can continue to parent your son or daughter as well as you can and enjoy the experience of being a mom or dad.