Legal custody refers to which parent has the major decision making power for the child. The major decisions dealt with in legal custody are education, religion,and medical issues. Oftentimes, we can come up with a detailed agreement at mediation that spells out exactly how decisions regarding the children will be made.
Physical custody refers to who is physically taking care of the children. The most basic factor in determining whether or not a case should have sole or joint physical custody is the number of overnights the child will spend with each parent. In a case where one parent has less than 110 overnights, we are generally dealing with sole physical custody. However, it is not enough to simply refer to the number of overnights. The court will also look to each parent’s involvement in the child’s life to determine, once and for all, what kind of physical custody actually exists. One of the primary impacts from physical custody is on the amount of child support that will be required. There are separate child support worksheets for sole and joint physical custody. Under the joint physical custody worksheet, less child support will be awarded. However, also under joint custody, both parents are expected to contribute money to raising the child outside of the child support payments.
Split custody means that one child will be on one track with the parents and another child will be on another track with the parents. These cases can be more complicated because they include more than one schedule and plan. Therefore, careful attention is needed when split custody is the desired result.
If parents cannot come to an agreement about a custody issue, often we will obtain a court order to hire a custody evaluator. These professionals are generally PhD psychologists or social workers. Their job is to interview the parents, the children, and other individuals and make a recommendation to the court about the custody issue. While the court generally accepts the recommendation, it is not required to do so. In certain high conflict cases, a rebuttal custody evaluator is needed to support a parent’s position.