Today I’m answering one of the top ten child custody questions parents ask about when getting divorced.
First of all, there are two types of custody: legal and physical custody. Physical custody is just what it sounds like, it is the physical amount of time that your children spend with each one of you. You can have joint physical or sole physical custody. Under the law joint physical custody does not necessarily mean equal time. You can have joint physical custody, but one parent has the children 60%-70% of the time and the other parent has 30-40% of the time. It is generally a good idea to pay attention to the actual custody schedule and not so much to the designation of joint physical or sole physical custody. Furthermore, understand that under Missouri law it is easier to modify or change your custody schedule later if it is originally designated as sole physical custody than if the original order says joint physical custody. For these reasons fighting over the joint physical or sole physical custody designation is really not where you should focus your attention.
What about legal custody? Legal custody means the right to make decisions related to your child’s health, education and welfare. Decisions like whether to medicate your child for ADHD, whether to send your child to private or public school, decisions about surgeries and medical care, participation in extracurricular activities like competitive gymnastics, and religious classes all fall under the heading of legal custody. If you have joint legal custody, then these decisions are shared, and parents are required to confer and discuss these types of decisions before an actual decision is made. If you have sole legal custody, then one parent is making all of these decisions for the child without conferring with the other parent. Rarely do courts grant one parent sole legal custody without an overwhelming amount of evidence that the two parents do not get along and clearly do not agree when it comes to their child’s health, education or welfare.