When parties look to create a custody agreement, three major topics need to be covered for an agreement to be deemed sufficient. The three topics are legal custody, physical custody, and parenting time.
Legal custody pertains to who is allowed to make big life decisions for the child. These are decisions on topics such as education, healthcare, and religion. If the parties or a judge decide that the parents will work together to make the major decisions in a child’s life this is called joint legal custody. If complete sole or joint legal custody does not work for a particular family, it is also possible to have a form of modified joint legal custody, with one party having final decision-making power. The way this works is that both parties will discuss the major decisions together and work to come to a solution together; however, if the parties remain split one party has the power to trump the other’s decision.
Physical custody pertains to who the child will live with on a day-to-day basis. The parent who has the child the majority of the time is often referred to as the custodial parent. When determining physical custody many arrangements can be reached regarding where the child will be living, ranging from 50/50 agreements, where the child would split their time equally between each parent, to detailed schedules that are customized to the family’s specific situation.
If a parent has primary physical custody of a child, the other parent may have a parenting time schedule put in place in the custody agreement. If you have had previous experience with custody agreements, but the term parenting time is not ringing a bell, it may be because parenting time used to be referred to as visitation. Parenting time does not need to be limited to overnight weekend visits; it may also look like an order for one parent to have parenting time for a few hours after school during the week, or if the parties live far away from each other it could be an order where one party has the child the majority of the time and the other parent gets to have the child on alternating school breaks. The possibilities of different parenting time schedules are endless, and by hiring a competent attorney you are hiring an expert who will help you find the type of schedule that works best for your family’s dynamics.
In closing, the process involved in reaching a custody agreement is emotionally draining for everyone involved. When navigating this process it is helpful to keep your child in mind and try to do what is in their best interest, as well as keep your expectations in check. It is a rare occurrence that a party will receive every last thing that they hoped for in a custody agreement. However, it is more common that when parties, with the help of their attorneys, can work together to come to an agreement they end up with results that are more beneficial to their family dynamics.