Understanding Sole vs. Joint Custody

May 12, 2017 — by Karen Brown
Tags: Child Custody Divorce

A child on a swingWhen children are involved in a divorce or separation, custody can be a contentious issue. Consulting with a child support and custody attorney can help ensure your parental rights are protected. Child custody attorney Karen S. Brown helps clients faced with a custody case understand the difference between sole versus joint custody. If you live in or around Los Angeles, CA and need assistance in your child custody case, contact us today.  

About Legal and Physical Custody

When discussing sole and joint custody, it's important to also discuss legal and physical custody as all four types of custody intertwine. Legal custody refers to a person's authority to make decisions regarding a child's life. These decisions involve major life issues like medical care, education, and religion. Physical custody is used to establish with whom the child will live. Legal and physical custody may be awarded solely to one parent or shared jointly.

What Is Sole Custody?

When sole custody is granted, only one parent is granted custody. It is common for parents with sole custody to have both sole legal and physical custody, but that is not always the case. In some circumstances, a parent may be given sole physical custody but share legal custody or vice versa. 

When sole legal custody is granted, only one parent has the legal authority to make significant life decisions for his or her child. When one parent is given sole physical custody, his or her child will reside with that parent. Although sole physical custody establishes whom the child lives with, the other parent may be granted visitation rights.

What Is Joint Custody?

Joint custody refers to cases in which both parents equally share custody. Both legal and physical custody may be shared jointly, or both parents may share legal custody while the other has sole physical custody. When joint legal custody is granted, both parents have the authority to make major life decisions for their child. It is up to the parents to come to an agreement about such choices although the courts may step in if both parents are not able to agree. Joint physical custody establishes that the child will live with each parent roughly 50 percent of the time.

Determining Custody

Although it's best for all involved, especially the children, that parents be amicable and split custody in a manner that takes their children's best interests into account, that's not always the reality of divorce and the courts may need to determine custody. Sole legal custody may be granted to one parent if both parents find it impossible to agree on major decisions in their children's lives, or one of the parents is abusive, unfit to parent, or not involved in the children's lives.

Sole physical custody may be granted if the children live with one parent most of the time. The other parent may be granted visitation rights.

When agreeing to sole physical custody, parents need to be aware of their state's law regarding sole physical custody, as some states allow parents with sole physical custody to move away with the children. In such situations, the parent who doesn't have physical custody may have to prove in court why the move would be harmful to the children if they wish to prevent the move. This is why it's important to seek the aid of a family law attorney to ensure your parental rights are protected. 

Contact the Family Law Attorneys of Shore, McKinley & Conger

If you're facing a fight for custody of your children, family law attorney Karen S. Brown can help. Schedule a consultation for more information.