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What are the basics of child custody?

Children need their parents to provide a loving and nurturing environment. When parents decide to separate, the question of who is going to provide this care is likely to arise. If you are a parent who is currently struggling with a child custody dispute, your mind is probably filled with many questions regarding your custody rights and the rights of the other parent involved. It is important to learn the basics of child custody so you can make sound decisions when discussing child custody issues.

Generally, two types of child custody exist-legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the right given to a parent to make significant decisions for the child, such as medical, religious and educational decisions. In child custody disputes, one parent can be granted legal custody or both parents can share legal custody. Physical custody refers to the control or physical possession of the child or, simply put, where the child lives the majority of the time.

Children typically will spend most of their time with the parent who has physical custody. As is the case with legal custody, physical custody can be shared. Shared physical custody can be primary or partial. A parent who has primary physical custody of the child will take care of the child most of the time. Partial physical custody refers to one parent having custody of the child for a shorter period of time.

When discussing child custody arrangements, you and the other parent may negotiate or talk through issues in order to avoid an interfering third party. Once the parties have reached an agreement, they can go to a family law court and file it. A custody arrangement is not enforceable unless both parties go to court and obtain a custody order that has been approved by a judge. You also may need legal guidance when discussing child custody issues. Without legal guidance, you may find it difficult to navigate the court system, which is complex.

Source: WomensLaw.org, "Custody," accessed on Sept. 24, 2014

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