Custody and parenting time are the most emotionally charged issues to deal with during a divorce. One household will soon become two and the matter of where the children will live and visit is often contested. The trial of such issues, when the parties are competing for primary status, is complex, costly and time consuming. If there is a trial, the court will make a determination of what custodial situation would be in the child’s best interests by examining the 12 factors of the Child Custody Act. This results in a finding of which parent prevails under those factors and what the custodial arrangement will be.
Joint legal custody means that parents share decision-making authority as to the important decisions affecting the welfare of a child. Parents must consult with each other regarding matters such as non-emergency medical decisions, religious upbringing, education and child care. Today, joint legal custody is generally awarded premised upon the notion that joint parental involvement will be preserved even though there are separate households. With joint legal custody, both parents have access to the child’s school and medical records and the ability to communicate directly with teachers and health care providers.
Physical custody defines the primary residence of a child. It can be awarded solely to one parent or jointly to both parents. During the time that a child resides with a parent, that parent makes the decisions regarding routine and emergency matters. Of equal importance is the parenting time schedule because that determines when the child spends time with each parent.