Child Custody Arrangement

Which Type of Child Custody Arrangement Would be Best for Your Family After a Divorce?
By: Lindsey LeBaron

I had the opportunity to live in Miami Florida for about a year and a half. While living there I came in contact with an incredible family who accepted me into their home and treated me like family. The mother of this family had gone through a divorce and was still having conflict with her ex-husband about custody of their daughter. I watched this wonderful lady struggle to find and afford a lawyer while harboring hatred for her ex-husband. It was then that I wondered if there was potentially a better way for families to avoid unnecessary pain post-divorce. I did some research from some credible sources and found out that there are four different custody arrangements that parents can do.

1) Physical Custody

2) Legal Custody

3) Sole Custody

4) Joint or Shared Custody

Here I’ll define each custody arrangement and discuss the benefits for each option. My hope is that I can at least provide information for families out there like the one that I met in Miami and give them the chance to choose the best option so that ongoing contention can be minimized. If you are considering divorce and are deciding on custody arrangements for your children, I invite you to consider the information that I have found.

Physical Custody
Physical custody means that a parent has the right to have their children live with him or her. Both you and your former spouse are entitled to this right and privilege. In the United States, some states will grant joint (or shared) physical custody when the children spend equal amounts of time with both parents. According to research, joint physical custody works best when both parents live close together. However, moving from house to house on a regular basis can be very stressful. When parents live close enough together, children can still live in a familiar community, go to school regularly, and have an opportunity to build quality friendships.

Legal Custody
Legal custody means that a parent has the right to make decisions about a child’s upbringing. A parent can make decisions about their children’s schooling, religious beliefs, and medical care, as well as other decisions affecting the upbringing of their children. Many states usually grant joint legal custody to both parents giving them equal rights to decide how their children will grow up. Some circumstances may require a need for sole legal custody. (For instance, your former spouse shows no interest in the upbringing of your children, or your former spouse is abusive.) In these circumstances, you will need to convince a family court judge that sole custody would be the best option for your children.

Sole Custody
Sole custody means that one parent can have sole legal custody, meaning they can make all of the decisions about their children’s upbringing, or sole physical custody, meaning their children can only live with them. In most cases, this type of custody is given to one parent because of abuse or neglect on the part of their former spouse. Most courts shy away from sole custody so that both parents have the opportunity to be in their children’s lives after the divorce. Post-divorce contact can bring tension between you and your ex-spouse. However, research shows that when parents try to figure out a custody option where their children can have a relationship with both parents, this helps their children cope better with the after-effects of divorce compared to children who are separated from their other parent.

Joint or Shared Custody
The most common type of custody arrangement worldwide is joint or shared custody. Joint custody means that both parents share the decision-making responsibilities and/or physical custody of their children. Many parents who choose this option tend to create a schedule for children to split weeks between each parent’s home. This type of custody allows children to continue to build a relationship with both of their parents after the divorce. The majority of children spend more time living with their mother (usually during the weekdays) than their fathers.

Many families who have chosen a joint family arrangement report positive outcomes for their children. Research shows that children in shared parenting families do better in school, are less depressed, have fewer health problems/stress-related illnesses, and are better adjusted behaviorally than children who only spend time with their mother. As well, when children have a closer relationship with both parents, the tension between separated parents decreases. However, for some families, joint custody may not be the answer due to continual conflict between both parents. When there is continual tension between parents, children can be negatively affected and feel like they are caught in the middle. Research shows that regardless of personal inconvenience, children tend to find that joint custody is worth the trouble of living in two homes because maintaining a close relationship with both of their parents is a high priority to them.

Research support used in this blog can be found here.