The “custody” word sometimes sends shivers down the spine of divorce litigants. However, this term is often misunderstood and can unnecessarily result in a high conflict divorce. Divorce lawyers in Greenwich and Westport often are asked: “What does ‘custody’ mean?” First, in the context of divorce, there are two parts to custody: legal and physical.
Legal custody refers to decision making with regard to your child’s health, education and religion. Most couples, even those who are divorcing, want the best medical care and education for their children and are on the same page as to what that is. Religion is rarely a factor at the time of divorce as it typically has long since been settled. That is why almost all cases result in joint legal custody.
In certain cases, parties may have joint legal custody but one parent may have final decision making on the major issues. But even this is usually invoked after both parents consult with each other or try to arrive at a mutual decision that is in the best interest of their child. Sometimes the parties employ a parenting coordinator to assist with the decision making process, since relying on a Court to insert itself into the controversy is usually not efficient or productive.
Physical custody is another matter. Here we are talking about who is going to have the child and at what times. It could be sole physical custody, where the child primarily resides with one parent and the other parent has “visitation,” although at Broder & Orland LLC, we refrain from using that term and take a more modem approach of crafting “parenting time,” since no parent should be labeled as a “visitor.” Typically, a sole custody arrangement might result in the non-custodial parent having the child every other weekend from Friday to Monday morning and one or two nights during the week.
Sole physical custody may come into play where a parent has issues with drugs, alcohol or abuse. Even in those situations, that parent will almost always have parenting time with the child, although typically less often and sometimes under supervision.
Physical custody can also mean a shared custody arrangement where the child is with each parent roughly half of the time. This could mean anything from splitting the week to alternating weeks or anything else that is conducive to the family’s schedule. It should not be a mathematical calculation however and should be decided on for the right reasons, i.e. it is best for the child or it fits best with the parents’ outside commitments.
So it is important to understand the custody terms and to work toward a decision making process and parenting time arrangement that is conducive to your family, rather than getting caught up in the “custody” label. Custodial arrangements can be as tailor made and creative as needed to fit the circumstances of the parents and child. The good news is with skilled lawyers like ours at Broder & Orland LLC, these situations usually work out. Very few cases involving custody end up at trial.