San Diego Child Custody Lawyers : What is joint custody?
The terms our courts use when you are going through a divorce don’t always make common sense. The vocabulary seems foreign. Most folks do not really understand the difference between joint custody, sole custody and legal custody. So, let’s spend a little time talking about what these terms mean in court and, more importantly, what they mean to you.
Often a parent involved in a custody dispute will assume he or she should try to lay claim to “sole custody.” It’s a conclusion he or she has reached by reasoning that the judge won’t take seriously any request for, say, primary custody if the parent seems ready to concede that the other parent is a fine parent. This is the parent who figures that this is a competition, winner take all. After all,you might as well go big or go home, right? Wrong. Sometimes it’s exactly the tug-of-war in which each parent seeks to be the victor that backfires. Judges can conclude that the parent seeking “sole” anything is just greedy or cruel. So need to consider carefully what you ask for and why.
That’s not to say that there aren’t situations which genuinely call for sole legal, sole physical custody or both. A child abused or molested by one parent but safe with the other parent? That’s a no-brainer. One parent a drug or alcohol addict whose addiction endangers the children; the other parent ‘normal’? The result is all but decided if the evidence proves the allegation.
Are we talking about joint legal custody or joint physical custody?
What’s the difference?
“Legal custody” is the right to make decisions regarding the child’s health, education and welfare, i.e., Which doctor? School? Child care provider? Orthodontics? Therapy? When, with whom, and for how much? “Physical custody” is the time the children spend with each parent. The vast majority of family court orders are for joint legal custody, meaning each parent has an equal say. “Sole legal custody” is rare. It’s usually reserved for cases when one parent is violent, drug or alcohol dependent or mentally ill.
Physical joint custody is often misunderstood to mean “equal” time or as is often said “50/50.” That’s not what it means. “Joint” in this context might mean one parent has alternating weekends with the children and shares alternating holidays. Even an order from the court that says the parents have “equal” custody will come under fire when calculating child support if the actual practice of the parents isn’t what the order says . The hardest thing to understand is; Joint custody does not mean equal custody .
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