Child custody orders are judicial determinations made by a family court judge, arising out of a divorce proceeding in which both parents are legally fighting over the right to determine important child raising decisions such as education, religious training, summer camp, social activities and living arrangements.
In divorce cases, there are two types of child custody, physical custody and legal custody. It is the job of the family court judge to determine whether a parent will receive shared or sole custody.
Legal custody refers to the legal right of parents to make important decisions concerning their child’s welfare, including the right to decide the child’s education, religious training, health issues and child discipline.
In a divorce cases, if both spouses cannot informally agree on a fair and reasonable apportionment of legal custody, the court will decide for the parents. This is one reason why mediated divorces have become so popular. In mediated divorces, it is the parents who determine for himself or herself, with the assistance of a trained mediator, how custody over their children will be apportioned.
Typically, the spouse who is awarded a share of legal custody of the children will also be awarded the same share of physical custody. A parent who is awarded one-hundred percent legal custody, also known as sole custody, will have complete authority to determine how much time the child can spend with the other spouse if any, and also whether extended family members such as uncles, aunts and grandparents can spend time with the children. It is worth noting that in most jurisdictions, extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, have absolutely no legal rights to the children unless expressly permitted by the custodial parent.
Joint Custody Orders
In cases in which the family court has awarded joint custody, both parents will share in the legal and physical custody of the child. With this type of custodial arrangement, both parents get a chance to participate in making decisions about the child's welfare.
Even though both parents can be awarded joint custody, the judicial trend is to have the children living in one primary residence – usually the mother’s home. Courts and child care experts believe it is in the best interests of the child to have only one primary residence rather then being split between two homes and getting shuttled back and forth between parents. Most experts believe this type of custodial arrangement tends to be too disruptive to the children’s lives.
Sole Custody Orders
If one of the parents is awarded sole custody by the court, then only one parent gets to have both legal and physical control of the child.
In circumstances in which one parent is judicially determined to be unfit to raise a minor children, or in cases of parental abandonment or abuse of the children, the court will usually order that the entire custody be awarded to just one parent. For instance, a divorce court will usually award sole custody to one parent where the other parent has been determined to be abusive, uncaring, mentally unfit, or is engaged in drug abuse.
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