Going through a separation or divorce with kids involved brings up a lot of uncertainty. What will happen to the children? Where will they live, go to school, spend holidays? Who will make important decisions about their healthcare, education, and religious upbringing?
These concerns all tie into child custody—the allocation of decision-making responsibilities and living arrangements for your children. When parents split up, custody arrangements must be made that are in the child’s best interests.
Determining optimal custody depends on many factors related to your unique circumstances and needs as a family. Typically, custody falls into one of three main setups: sole custody, joint custody, or split custody.
Understanding the differences between these three custody types can help you make the most informed choices during an already challenging time of transition for your family.
When parents split up, the court decides on a custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interests. To help inform this vital decision for your family’s future, the court will evaluate factors like:
- Your child’s bond with you and your co-parent
- Your capability to communicate and cooperate on child-rearing decisions
- Your child’s expressed preferences if mature enough
- Practical considerations regarding your child’s routine, safety, and care needs.
Getting advice from a lawyer facing child custody cases in Arizona or nearby may help you understand typical custody setups. Keeping your child’s well-being at the center throughout the custody determination process will allow you to make choices to nurture their healthy development.
Sole custody means only one parent has the legal authority and duty to make significant decisions about the child’s life. This includes determinations about:
- Education: What school your child attends, learning support services, and extracurricular activities
- Healthcare: Doctors, dentists, medical treatment, and mental health services
- Religion: Religious upbringing, if applicable
- Welfare: Living situation, lifestyle, rules, and discipline
In this type of child custody, your child lives primarily with the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent typically gets scheduled visitation. This allows continuing parent-child interaction while limiting the non-custodial parent’s decision-making role.
Sole custody is usually deemed appropriate if one parent is less fit to care for the child, like in cases of abuse or addiction. But sometimes fit parents agree one of them can better handle major duties. Or the judge decides this arrangement fits your child’s needs best.
Joint custody means both parents share custody rights and responsibilities for raising their child. This gets broken down into:
- Joint Legal Custody
Both you and your co-parent equally share in making major life decisions for your child regarding education, healthcare, religious upbringing, etc. You must communicate with each other and agree on these vital choices.
- Joint Physical Custody
Your child splits time actually living and residing with each of you. For instance, alternating every other week or a “2-2-5” schedule, spending two days at one home, then two days at the other, and five days back at the first.
This works best when you live close enough to exchange your child reasonably and when you and your co-parent communicate amicably.
The goal with joint custody arrangements is keeping both parents actively involved in key choices while providing your child stable time with each of you.
In cases of split custody, each parent is awarded sole custody over one or more of the children. For example:
- If you have two kids, your son may primarily live with and be in the sole custody of you, the father, while your daughter lives with and remains in the sole custody of your ex-wife.
This divided setup tends to occur when:
- There Are Major Age Gaps Between Siblings
An older teen might express a preference to move across town with one parent to stay at their current school while keeping a younger child in the family home with more parent caretaking could minimize disruption.
- Each Child Bonds Differently With Each Parent
Your shy, anxious daughter might thrive with more nurturance from mom, while your active, adventurous son leans into the father’s outgoing personality.
- Practical Factors Vary Between Kids
One parent’s work schedule or physical custody may line up well for hands-on care of an infant, while the other parent has more bandwidth for shuttling an older child to after-school activities.
Though rare, split custody aims to get each child into the most suitable environment to have their unique needs met. Keeping your children’s well-being at the center allows tailoring custody placements accordingly.
Determining optimal custody arrangements takes insight from legal experts and compassion toward what your child needs most. Consult with an attorney knowledgeable in family law to get the facts so you can then make fully informed decisions. What matters most now is championing your child’s well-being through this challenging transition.