Many parents would say that the most important issue in a divorce is deciding who takes custody of the children. In the family court’s view, parents need to determine who accepts legal custody and who takes physical custody of their kids. 

A parent with legal custody has the authority to make decisions over a child’s major life events such as medical treatment, religion and education. If both parents wish to provide input toward their child’s growth and development, a judge must arrange for it in the custody order. 

Joint versus sole legal custody 

Based on how much involvement each parent wishes to have in his or her children’s lives, the court may award joint or sole legal custody. A joint or “shared” legal custody arrangement generally means that each spouse has an equal say in a child’s important life decisions. 

The purpose of sharing custody equally is to promote a child’s well-being. As reported by Parents magazine, customizing a joint scheduling arrangement and maintaining constant communication keeps everyone involved. Parents spending time alone with their children may help foster healthy relationships without turning a child against an ex-spouse. 

During a divorce, spouses may decide on a sole legal custody arrangement. Only one parent may then have a say in the children’s life decisions. The court, however, awards sole legal custody when it serves a child’s overall interests. This generally occurs when one parent has issues with physical or substance abuse that may harm a child’s progress. 

Custody of a child’s physical placement 

Dissolving a marriage results in each spouse living in her or his own residence. The issue of physical custody requires deciding where the children will reside. The court generally orders a custodial parent with the responsibility of providing a child with housing or physical placement. The custodial parent also has the authority to make day-to-day decisions for a child. 

The non-custodial parent does not have daily responsibility for a child but may request visitation rights. An arrangement made through the divorce process results in a parent’s legal right to regularly visit with a child.