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How does joint custody work?

Creating a parenting plan is a crucial step for parents going through divorce or separating. In general, parents can agree on custody arrangements outside of court, or if an agreement cannot be reached, the parents can ask the court to rule on these matters. Whatever your situation may be, it is important to be aware of your custody options.

Joint custody is a common type of custody plan that allows both parents regular access to the children while also clearly outlining parental rights and responsibilities. However, joint custody does not necessarily mean that time with each parent will be equal, nor does it necessarily mean that the parents will share equal authority in the child's life.

Understanding how joint custody works

There are two main aspects of joint custody -- legal custody and physical custody.

  • Legal custody: This refers to the right that a parent has to make important decisions on behalf of a child, including decisions regarding education, religion and medical care.
  • Physical custody: This refers to the amount of time that a child spends with his or her parent. Physical custody includes weekend visitation, holidays, breaks from school and more.

In a true joint custody agreement, parents will equitably share both physical and legal custody. Depending on the circumstances, it is also possible for one parent to maintain full legal custody while still sharing physical custody with the other parent. Every family is different, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all custody plan. Your custody plan should match the unique needs of your children while still protecting your parental rights.