When parents get divorced, they tend to focus a lot of energy on their children. They certainly care about the division of their marital assets. They want to make sure things are split up fairly and in accordance with state law. But their main focus tends to be on maintaining a relationship with their children.
When dealing with the legal side of divorce, some parents make the mistake of thinking of child custody as an all-encompassing term. But there are actually two different types of custody. The first is known as physical custody, which is now most often referred to as parenting time. The second is legal custody, which revolves around the decision-making power that parents have concerning a child’s most fundamental experiences, including medical care, residency, religious concerns and education.
Splitting up parenting time
When dividing parenting time, parents determine where a child will live and when. It’s very common for children to switch back and forth between each home. In some cases, this is done evenly, such as spending a week with one parent and then a week with the other.
But dividing parenting time can also be done in more nontraditional format, such as having a child live in the same home all week and then live with the other parent on the weekends. In some cases, parents will even use birdnesting, which means that the adults are the ones who move in and out of the home. The children just get to stay in the same house. What is important is that co-parents thoughtfully consider which arrangements will best serve their children’s best interests and will ultimately be workable for everyone.
Understanding decision-making power
The other side of custody focuses on who can make important decisions on behalf of an affected child. Examples could include:
- Where the child is going to go to school
- What religion the child is going to be raised in
- What to do when there is a need for emergency medical care
- What types of vaccines the child will get when they are an infant
These types of issues can sometimes cause problems when parents are ordered to share this decision-making power. They may both fundamentally disagree about something, such as what school is the best or what type of medical care is necessary. They need to compromise and work together, but the court can step in if cooperation proves to be impossible.
When determining how to address custody, it’s important to seek legal guidance as proactively as possible. Otherwise, co-parents may suffer as a result of common missteps that can easily be avoided if a knowledgeable legal advocate is in one’s corner.