With any marital separation come a slew of questions, especially if children are involved. Decisions concerning child custody and visitation rights are a vital part of the process, with varying considerations that can impact the outcome. Some of these considerations are obvious and others less so.


Current research shows that joint custody may be better for the child’s overall psychological health and well-being, but every situation is different, and this is not always feasible or correct for the children involved.

Here are some things to keep in mind and ask your child custody lawyer.

Understanding Joint, Legal, and Physical Child Custody

There are various types of custody arrangements and agreements to explore in any dissolution of marriage involving children. These include:

  • Physical custody
  • Legal custody
  • Joint custody
  • Parenting plans

Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the child or children will live. 

Legal custody refers to the parent who bears the legal authority to make the major decision’s regarding the child’s health, education and religious upbringing.

In general, courts are reluctant to interfere with parent-child relationships unless one of the parents is proven to be abusive, negligent, or dangerous.  If those issues are not proven, usually courts require each parent to discuss major decisions and make them together (jointly).

custody-lawyerThe effect of joint legal custody is to give each parent a veto over the other parent as to major decisions.  Sometimes, if there has been so much disagreement between the parents as to certain major decisions, the courts will assign certain decision-making responsibilities to one parent.  For example, if parents clashed as to major medical decisions in the past, one parent may be ordered to be solely responsible for those kinds of major decisions.  Yet the court may still require parents to jointly decide other decisions, such as choice of a private school.  Parents who agree upon parenting plans usually keep all decisions joint.

Regardless, even if one parent has sole legal and physical custody, there is some expected overlap.  If the child is with one parent, that parent solely makes day to day decisions.  For example, if a child comes down with the flu, even if their parent is not their legal custodian, usually they will not need to get permission from the custodial parent before getting the child to Urgent Care.

If parents are building a parenting plan together, once they have sorted out the who makes the decisions, they are ready to discuss scheduling their time with their child.  So, they–or the courts if they cannot agree–schedule week to week time for each parent.  They also schedule time for each parent during holiday and school breaks.  Some parents schedule time for special days like children’s birthdays.

In addition to detailing who has legal and physical custody of the child, the parenting plan will include financial arrangements for the child or children.  This includes monthly child support requirements (child support).  They also set out how to divide specific expenses such gymnastics, private school tuition or other expenses unique to the child or children.  Parenting plans also state who pays the premiums for the child’s health, dental and vision insurance, and how to divide deductibles and co-pays.

What Impacts Child Custody Decisions

There are the obvious answers and the less obvious answers as to what impacts child custody decisions. Ultimately, the courts award custody to the parent who demonstrates they will provide the best environment for the child.

To make this determination, courts will consider some of the following:

  • Any evidence of abuse, domestic violence, or neglect
  • Parents’ employment status
  • Mental and physical well-being of the child as well as the parents
  • The level of attachment between the child and their current environment
  • The quality of the relationship between parent and child
  • The school district and neighborhood of primary residence

child-custody-lawyerCustody arrangements may be a joint decision or an all-out court fight. If the co-parents are both vying for physical or legal custody, the court will need to hear arguments citing the grounds for full custody and be presented with evidence supporting each parent’s claim. The most common types of admissible evidence in these instances include:

  • Witnesses
  • Journals
  • Text messages
  • Voicemails
  • Emails
  • Letters
  • Photographs
  • Recordings (audio and visual)
  • Schedules
  • Financial records
  • Medical records
  • School reports
  • Police reports

The child’s preference will be considered by the court, if the child is old enough to voice their opinion. Typically, this happens with children who are at least 10 years old, but it has been known to happen in children as young as eight years old.  The older the child, the greater impact their preference has on a court’s custody decision.

Child Visitation Arrangements

child-visitation-rightsParenting time, more commonly known as visitation, is a form of limited custody in which the noncustodial parent spends time with the child. This may be stipulated by the court or a part of the parenting agreement.

In these circumstances, the noncustodial parent has specific times in which they will see the child.

Sometimes, the court will decide the noncustodial parent may pose a threat to the child, and order that the visitation be supervised to ensure the continued safety and well-being of the child. Supervised visitation is funded through the state.

Often in these circumstances, the noncustodial parent will also have access to educational/training opportunities. These may be beneficial should the noncustodial parent decide they want to revisit or change custody arrangements down the line.

Unsupervised visits are established in the parenting plan, in which the custodial parent will transfer the child into the care of the noncustodial parent for a specified period—say every other weekend. The details and schedules are set, and any variation without communication and consent from the custodial parent can lead to more stringent visits.

Custody is an exhaustive, emotional subject that parents must consider during a period already fraught with emotional exhaustion. The important thing is always whatever is in the best interest for the child while honoring both parents’ rights as much as possible.

If you have questions about child custody arrangements, contact Bruce Galloway Law.