The two most basic categories of child custody are:
- Legal custody – the parent’s ability to make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child.
- Physical custody – living arrangements and visitation schedule.
Child custody is further defined by other categories of custody:
- Joint/shared custody – both parents share equally in the legal and physical custody of the children.
- Sole custody – one parent has legal and physical custody of the children.
Detailed parenting arrangements can be planned involving various custody combinations where one parent has sole legal custody and the other has sole physical custody, or one parent has sole custody of one child and the other has sole custody of the other child, and so on.
In determining child custody the court looks at a number of factors, including but not limited to:
- Ensuring frequent and continued contact with both parents
- The child’s best interest
- The child’s health, safety, and welfare
- Any history of abuse
- Use of controlled substances by a parent
- The child’s preference
- Whether a party is a registered sex offender or violent criminal
- The child’s need of stability and continuity
- Emotional bonds
Child custody is one of the most contested areas of family law. Unfortunately, it can also be the most expensive. In some instances the parties are so contentious that the court (or one of the parties) requests an expert be appointed to perform a detailed custody evaluation and make a recommendation to the court. This expert evaluation, typically referred to as a “730 evaluation,” has many positive aspects. One of the most positive aspects is that a 730 evaluator is impartial and experienced in matters of child custody and psychological evaluation. The expert is allowed access to everyone involved in the dispute and makes his/her evaluation after evaluating each party. A drawback is that 730 evaluations tend to be expensive. In the end, however, a 730 evaluation may be less costly than lengthy litigation and result in less mental anguish.
As with any other area of family law, the issue of child custody is complex with each case uniquely requiring special counsel. We urge you to seek legal counsel to fully explain the current law as it relates to your specific circumstances.