In child custody cases, the best interest of the child is the primary focus when determining who will be responsible for the child's care. All things being equal, parental responsibility normally is shared between both parents. A number of factors determine the court's likelihood of awarding custody to one parent over another. These factors include the parents' history of caring for the child, any possible physical or emotional abuse and any drug use or alcohol addiction. There are three main types of custody that can generally be awarded to a parent: sole custody, primary residential custody and joint custody.
Sole custody is granted when one parent is able to care for the child and the other parent is not. Monetary factors are not considered in judgments of this magnitude. In other words, a parent's financial status is not a consideration when making a determination that restricts contact between parent and child. After sole custody is awarded to a parent, the other parent usually is relieved of all rights and responsibilities regarding the child. Unless otherwise ordered, all parental ties are severed.
A judge is not likely to order sole custody unless there is a compelling reason to do so. One parent who can prove allegations that the other parent is abusive, is addicted to drugs or alcohol and unwilling to receive treatment or would otherwise be a danger to the child can sometimes win a judgment of sole custody. Even in child custody cases that include these factors, the judge will weigh all of the facts and exhibit caution in making a ruling of sole custody.
Primary residential custody, commonly referred to as physical custody, is awarded to one parent. This stipulation denotes the location of where the child resides. Both parents are encouraged to take an active role in their child's upbringing, discipline and parenting plans. In child custody cases, the primary residential parent usually will receive child support from the other parent. Child support is designed to assist in the day-to-day expense of raising the child.
When primary residential custody is awarded to one parent, the other parent is granted visitation rights. It is best if the parents can agree on a visitation schedule. Alternatively, the court would set a schedule that is appropriate based on the parents' and child's schedule of work and school. In child custody cases where primary residential custody is awarded, that parent often will retain the family household to ease the transition for the child.
When both parents wish to be the primary residential parent of the child, the judge will take many factors into consideration. The goal is to ease the anxiety children face when parents divorce. Many judges will decide to award primary residential custody to the parent who has been the child's primary caregiver. Often, but not always, it is the child's mother who has taken on that role. Consequently, residential custody often is awarded to the mother, much to the father's chagrin.
Joint custody often refers to the physical sharing of the child's time. For example, the child might alternate living with each parent every other week. All expenses usually are shared equally in child custody cases that result in this type of time-sharing plan, provided that the parents' individual incomes are similar.
This arrangement works best when the parents reside in close proximity to each other and close to the child’s school. Care should be taken to minimize disruption in the child’s schedule. Both parents would provide a suitable bedroom for the child, duplicating the child’s basic needs at each household.