When parents separate or divorce, the legal decision making and physical care-taking they shared before must change. If you take your case to court, or need to get the court to turn your agreement into a court order, you will find that you have to address two key questions:
  1. Who will make the legal decisions regarding where children will go to school, what religious training they will have, and who will provide medical care? This is called legal custody. Courts either award joint legal custody (both parents must agree about the decisions that are made) or sole legal custody (one parent can make these decisions on their own.)
  2. Where children will live, and how each parent have physical custody (meaning who will take care of the children most of the time.) Courts either award joint physical custody (children spend significant periods of time living with each parent) or sole physical custody (children live almost all the time with one parent and visit periodically with the other parent.)

The two kinds of custody are awarded separately. This means that the parents can agree (or courts can order) joint or sole legal custody, and that is separate from joint or sole physical custody. Under a shared custody arrangement, both parents enjoy significant amounts of time with their children and make decisions together.

In some states, the court must begin with the idea that it will order shared custody unless it would not be in the children’s best interests. In many states, a court may order shared custody even when one of the parents disagrees. So, even if you don’t successfully negotiate your own parenting plan, you may end up with a shared custody order if you are in court.

Next steps:

  1. Learn about how this solution kit works
  2. Find out how to start building your parenting plan.