Legal Definitions of Custody
Physical and Legal Custody
Physical Custody is where the children live on a day-to-day basis.
Legal Custody is the decision-making process by which choices are made regarding religious upbringing, medical care providers, elective medical procedures, schools, and to an extent extracurricular activities among other issues.
Joint and Sole Custody
Sole custody is where one parent has the exclusive authority over decisions or where the children primarily reside.
Joint custody is a decision to share parenting of the children. It does not have to be 50/50 custody to be labeled joint custody.
When parenting time, which does not get shared on a relatively equal basis, is called "joint custody" the term is often a semantic device that is used to settle a case or make one parent feel as if they are not left out of the parenting process. Sometimes when parents share "joint" custody as a label, it is helpful to designate a "primary parent".
There is a presumption that modification of a sole custody award will take the children from one home and primarily place them into the other parent's home. Thus the label of "sole custody" is changed from one parent to the other. If one parent has sole custody the standard required to change custody is based on whether the child is physically and/or emotionally endangered in the custodial parent's environment to such an extent that changing custody will be less traumatic for the child than keeping the child in the custodial parent's environment.
Joint physical custody is modified based on what is in the best interests of the children. This is generally because the modification is made to the division of the time that the children are in the home of one joint custodial parent or the other without changing the label of "joint custody"
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