What’s the Difference Between Sole and Shared Custody?

Determining appropriate custody arrangements for minor children can be difficult when going through a divorce or separation. One of the primary concerns that may arise is which parent will gain custody of the child, or if joint custody will be established. It is important to understand the different types of custody agreements so you and your former spouse can determine the best option for your family and help to foster the best possible environment for your children. Here, the family law advisors at Rodier Family Law discuss the different types of parental custody and the major differences between sole and shared custody.

Before discussing Sole versus Shared Custody, one must understand that there are two (2) types of custody to be determined – legal and physical.  Legal custody speaks to a parent’s right to have input in and make decisions about their minor child, particularly with regard to their medical, educational and religious upbringing.  A parent with legal custody of their child has a right to weigh in on and determine legal issues pertinent to the child. Physical custody speaks to the child’s day-to-day upbringing, where they reside, their schedule, where they attend school, discipline, household rules, etc.  A parent with physical custody has the right to make decisions about the child’s physical custody when in his or her care.

Sole Custody

When one parent is awarded sole legal custody, they are able to make all determinations with regard to the legal custody of the child – namely issues relating to the medical care, education and religious upbringing of the child.  The parent who does not have sole custody has no right to weigh in on the decisions made by the legal custodian. Sole custody may be awarded in cases where there is a history of parties being unable to reach joint decisions, unfitness of a parent, or other concerns.  

When one parent has sole, or primary physical custody, the child typically resides with that parent all or part of the time.  The non-custodial parent may have visitation rights. Visitation rights may or may not be supervised (more commonly they are not supervised unless there is an identifiable potential harm to the child).  Sole physical custody is most often awarded when the other parent is deemed unfit for parental responsibilities for reasons including abuse, neglect, mental illness and drug addiction and may be awarded in difficult situations such as when parents live far apart in separate states.

Shared Custody

Shared legal custody means that both parties have equal input and the right to determine, jointly, all aspects relating to the legal custody of the child (namely, medical, educational and religious decision making).  Different from sole custody, the parties need to confer and make joint decisions. Neither party can make unilateral decisions without the consent or approval of the other parent.

In shared physical custody arrangements, time is split between parents, providing each parent time with the child at their residence. Typically in Maryland a parent with joint physical custody enjoys at least 128 overnights per year with the minor child. Physical custody refers to a parent’s right to have their child live with him or her. Shared physical custody is commonly implemented when both active and engaged parents live a reasonable distance apart enabling the child to experience little to no difficulty maintaining his or her school schedule, extracurricular involvement, contact with friends and extended family, despite spending time at both parents’ residences.

Determining Custody Arrangements for Your Family – A Parenting Plan

Divorce, and specifically conversations about custody, can be extraordinarily challenging. Understanding the choices available to your family in relation to sole or joint custody can be extremely beneficial for you and your child. As experienced family law attorneys, Rodier Family Law recognizes the many nuances that come with a divorce or separation. Ensuring that you and your loved ones are taken care of is a top priority for us. We enjoy working with our clients to develop parenting plans that are tailored to the needs and lifestyle of your family.  No family is identical and it is possible to craft plans that suit your specific needs and those of your children.

If you are in need of a family law attorney, or are looking for more information about shared and sole custody agreements, contact the Harford County attorneys at Rodier Family Law today.