WHAT IS CUSTODY

The term “custody” refers to decision making authority. Essentially, the parent who has custody of a child has the power to make important decisions in the child’s life.  Usually, these decisions relate to the child’s religion, school and educational programs, and health care.

Sole custody vs. Joint custody

Sole Custody:  This is where one parent has the responsibility and legal authority to unilaterally make major decisions about the child’s care regarding the child’s religion, school and educational programs, and health care.  Most commonly, the child lives primarily with the person who has sole custody.

Sole custody may be appropriate when there is a level of parental conflict that makes communication between the parents regarding the best interests of the child untenable.  It may also be appropriate when there are issues with physical or mental abuse, substance abuse, mental illness or poor judgment.  When deciding the appropriate custodial arrangement for a child the court aims to mitigate concerns or limit risks in the life of the child.

Joint Custody:  Where separated parents are in agreement on major issues affecting the life of their child, have little or no concern for the judgment of each other, and have demonstrated the ability to communicate effectively in the best interests of the child, a Joint custody arrangement is tenable. With Joint Custody both parents legally have an equal say as to major decisions affecting their child such as the child’s religion, school and educational programs, and health care.  In this custodial arrangement, the assumption is the parties will discuss an issue and jointly decide or the decision will be made by one parent with the other parent acquiescing to the judgment of the other.

Finally, in some cases parents divide decision making.  For example, one parent can make the medical decisions while the other makes the educational decisions.