There are two types of child custody when someone gets divorced. People generally think about the first one, which is physical custody. This just refers to which parent the child is going to live with and where they are going to live at the time.
But the second part of child custody is the legal decision-making ability for that child. This can be even more important than physical custody, in some senses, and so parents need to know how it works.
This decision-making power is generally referred to as legal custody. Married couples already have legal custody of their children and make decisions for them, doing things like opening bank accounts, deciding where they will go to school or deciding what type of medical care they will get.
When people get divorced, though, this legal custody has to be defined. In many cases, it is simply given to each parent, and they have to work together to make all of these decisions after the divorce. This can be difficult, but parents need to learn to cooperate and compromise so that they can put their kids first.
One important thing to note is that legal custody and physical custody do not have to be the same. For instance, the court may give your ex shared physical custody, meaning you both will have time to live with or visit your child. But the court may only give you legal custody, which means you alone get to make all these important decisions. Never assume that the two are automatically the same.
When conflicts do arise, it’s important for co-parents to understand their legal rights and steps to take.