Custody and visitation are two terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but they mean different things. If you are going through a divorce and child custody case, it is important to understand the difference between child custody and visitation. Read on to learn more about this the types of child custody, what visitation means, and what you can do to make the process more smooth.
Different Types of Child Custody
When someone thinks about child custody, they might be focusing on the time spent with the child. While this is an important part of parenting, time spent together is not really the definition of custody.
There are two types of child custody: legal and physical. Legal custody means that you can make legal decisions for your child. You are entitled to take your child to the doctor and to get their medical and dental records. You can see their school records and attend parent/teacher conferences or IEP meetings. You might be allowed to decide where the child will go to school, and you will have input on which religion, if any, they are raised with. All of these are examples of the things you have the authority to decide on if you have legal custody of the child.
The other type of child custody is physical custody. This means that your child lives with you. You are responsible for meeting your child’s needs. You’ll provide a home for the child, keep the utilities on, and purchase and prepare food for your child. You’ll make sure they get to school and arrange for childcare when you cannot be with them.
Either of these types of child custody can be either sole or joint. If you have sole legal or physical custody of your child, it means that you are the parent responsible for the activities that fall under that parameter. If you have joint legal or physical custody, it means that you share those responsibilities with your child’s other parent.
Note that even if you have joint physical custody, you might not have your child living with you exactly half of the time. Often (though not always), one parent has primary custody. This can be the case if one of you lives close to their school and the other lives in another city or if the child is very young and still nursing. The judge will make a decision in the best interest of the child when it comes to determining whether one parent has primary custody or whether you share in the parenting duties equally.
What Is Visitation?
Visitation is when one parent has sole physical custody of the child and the other parent has the right to see the child at specific times. One common way that visitation works is that the child will live with one parent and visit the other parent every other weekend. Those weekends spent with the noncustodial parent are the time set aside for visitation. Other visitation schedules work differently; the noncustodial parent might live far away and only see the child for a week or two during the summer, or they might have the child every other weekend plus one or two evenings during the week.
In some cases, visitation is supervised. This means that a third party oversees the interactions between the noncustodial parent and the child. The visitation might take place in a facility where a social worker will supervise the visits. Or it might be in the home of another relative, such as a grandparent. This is done to keep the child safe. In some cases, there is a history of abuse; in others, severe, untreated mental illness or a substance addiction can make it difficult for the noncustodial parent to keep the child safe. Supervised visitation is ordered when it is needed to meet the best interest of the child.
Developing a Parenting Plan
As you talk to your ex-spouse and try to decide what is best for your child, you might develop a parenting plan. A parenting plan spells out situations that could cause tension later in an effort to make decisions early in the process. For example, you might decide with your ex that you will alternate hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas each year if those are holidays you celebrate. You might also decide together that the child will live with one parent most of the time even if you are granted joint custody.
You might also come up with a plan for when the child will be with each parent over the course of a week or a month. For example, you might try a 5-2 schedule, a schedule of alternating weeks, or something else. Work together to find a solution that works for your child and your family.
Talking about how custody or visitation will work and agreeing on as many items as possible can shorten the amount of time you need to spend in court or working with a mediator, guardian ad litem, or other professional. A private attorney or a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can also guide you as you make these decisions and put together your parenting plan.
Getting Custody or Visitation
In the vast majority of cases, the child’s best interest is to develop a strong bond with each parent. This means that most of the time, both mothers and fathers are awarded either custody or visitation. If you are going through a divorce and you are concerned that you might not get custody or that you are worried about whether your child will be safe when visiting his or her other parent, it is important to seek legal guidance. National Family Solutions is a budget-friendly alternative to retaining a private attorney. Contact us today to find out whether we can help you as you seek to meet your child’s best interest through joint or sole custody or through visitation.