Child Custody 101

There are a few types of child custody: sole custody, shared custody, legal custody, joint legal custody, spheres of influence, physical custody, and residential custody. Physical and residential custody are really the same thing. Sole custody combines legal and physical custody. Joint legal custody can be pure, or with spheres of influence or one has final decision making. I will only be addressing the decision making in custody.

Whether you have sole custody, final decision making within joint custody, or spheres of influence, a few themes are often misunderstood and misused. No matter what type if custody you have, you CANNOT micromanage the other parent’s time with the child. Each parent makes the day to day decisions while the child is with him or her. Each parent gets to decide activities the child will be involved in while with that parent. Each parent during his or her time gets to decide social activities and who the child is and is not exposed to. Each parent during his or her time gets to decide the child’s diet while with that parent. Each parent during his or her time gets to decide the rules of his or her home while the child is there.

Are there exceptions to this? Of course, nothing is without exceptions. The child’s homework must be completed and supervised and school based activities attended. The child cannot be exposed to known pedophiles, child abusers, drug addicts, alcoholics when intoxicated or other potentially dangerous persons. A child cannot be fed food prohibited by the child’s pediatrician, gastrologist, or allergist. Activities should be reasonably age appropriate.

You cannot schedule activities during the other parent’s scheduled time without that parent’s express consent. Of course if the child truly wants to do that activity, not because you want the child to, and the other parent unreasonably withholds consent, that parent will have problems with the child. But if it is found out that you convinced the child to want to do that activity during the other parent’s time, you may get into trouble. A fit parent does not do that.

It is always best for parents no longer together to discuss and agree about the child, but not all can. Surprisingly, much more than half do. Sadly, many think that if the other parent does not agree with him or herself, the other parent is not cooperative. That type of thinking is also known as being a control freak. No matter what, you should inform the other parent of decisions needing to be made beyond the day to day decisions, and at minimum permit the other parent’s input before making a decision. But if you have joint legal custody, even though you have final decision making, to not get the other parent’s input first, may be contempt of court and or a showing of not being a fit custodial parent.

If you do any of the above “no no’s”, or you disagree with this article, you may be unfit, not as a parent, but as a custodial parent.