An Introduction to Child Custody: Sole or Joint?

child custody sole or joint in maryland

When it comes to divorce, child custody is often one of the most contentious parts. Does one spouse have full custody or will the children go back and forth? What does it all mean? Which one is right for you?

Legal vs. Physical Custody

Before you can begin to look at full custody vs. shared custody, it is important to define what custody means. When spouses who have children divorce, two legal considerations need to be made for the care and well-being of the child or children involved. First, the court must decide whether one or both parties will have legal custody. Legal custody refers to who has the right to make decisions about a child’s education, religious exposure, routine medical care, discipline or other issues that may arise that have to do with the child’s long-term welfare. Physical custody refers to who can spend time with the child while making decisions about their everyday needs.

Defining Full Custody

Full custody, also known as sole custody, can be applied to a child’s legal custody or physical custody or both. The parent with full custody has all of the decision making power regarding the aspect they are granted custody over. With both full legal custody and full physical custody, a parent can make all of the decision on behalf of the child without consulting with the other parent. Generally, full custody is only awarded in cases when one parent lacks the psychological or physical capacities to be a parent or if the parties are unable to communicate for the benefit of the child.

Defining Shared Custody

Shared custody, also known as joint custody, can also be applied to both a child’s legal and physical custody. Some form of shared custody arrangements is considered best for both the child and parents involved. While the “every other weekend” arrangement was once popular, more judges are looking to create truly shared custody arrangements that benefit the child. One recent study showed that when children spend at least 35 percent of their time with each parent, they do better in more than a dozen measures of well-being, including education, than if they lived primarily with one parent. With more than 71 percent of high school dropouts coming from single-parent households, this development is a guiding force in many custody cases.

Ultimately, when it comes to child custody, the court wants to do what is for best the child. Children over the age of 10 can be asked what their custody preference is. Many judges consider financial abilities of the parents, the age, health and gender of the child, opportunities for visitation, and other factors when legalizing custody arrangements. It is even possible to have an attorney assigned to represent a child’s best interest in a, particularly contentious custody case.

Even if you have created an informal custody agreement with your spouse, it is important to consult with an attorney about the agreement before it goes before a judge. Call Jaimee C. McDowell to discuss your child’s custody case today.