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Know The Difference Between Joint Custody & Equal Parenting Time

This comes up a lot in my practice.  People come in to see me and they tell me I want joint custody and I don't think that they realize there are two aspects to custody.  There is the legal aspect of custody and is there is the physical aspect of custody.

The legal aspect of custody relates to who's making major decisions about the children.  Normally major decisions relate to major decisions in the area of medicine education religion and personal care.  Personal care is kind of a newer thing that's come up and it relates to for example, are you going to let your kid get a tattoo or get a nose piercing or color their hair. Those are personal care decisions.   Custody relates to major decisions in those areas. Custody does not relate to that day-to-day everyday decisions that you make when the child is in your care.  For example, the kid comes over to see you and spend time with you and is feeling a little under the weather.   You want to give your child some benadryl or Children's Tylenol.  That’s all your kid requires then you don't need to have sole custody so legal custody to make that decision.

However, say your child a doctor says your child has a life-threatening illness and needs surgery or that your child may be needs to go to a specialized school or get specialized training.   Those are major decisions and if you share joint legal custody with the other parent these are things we need to talk with the other parents about.

 If you have sole custody or sole legal decision making in these areas these are things that under the laws of your State you probably have the right to make the call without getting the other parents approval.   It doesn’t mean you still shouldn't talk to the other parent about it, but you should have final say.  ALWAYS CHECK THE LAWS IN YOUR STATE.

People often come in and they say I want equal custody or joint custody and they don't realize that there's more to custody than just that legal aspect.  There's also the parenting time aspect and we're often than not when people come in to me they say that they want joint custody they're referring to they want equal time or joint parenting time.   

A person can have joint custody with the other parent and it doesn't mean that they get equal parenting time.   A person can have sole custody of the children and still share equal parenting time with the other parent.   So joint custody doesn't necessarily mean equal parenting time. So when you are going through your case or if you're about to start your case I want you to ask yourself what is it that is most important to you?  Maybe both things are important to you. Maybe you're very interested in sharing joint decision-making over those major decisions and you want equal parenting time.  Or it may be more important to you that you just have equal time with the kids and that you trust the other parent to make the best decisions for your children.   Or perhaps you don't feel like you necessarily need joint legal decision-making.

Don’t get hung up on labels especially if certain things aren't that important to you or you think the other parent and you might be on the same page when it comes to those major decisions. Sometimes what I find from my clients is they get really hung up on labels.  They say I really want joint custody but when I examine them what's more important to them is that they spend more time with their children.  When we get down to the nuts and bolts of it, that's what they want and we're able to resolve cases in a way to achieve what their goals are.  Think about what it is that you really want in your case and think about what custody arrangement from a legal perspective and what is going to achieve that purpose.   Also think about what parenting plan is going to achieve that purpose and above all of all remember that your kids come first!