Stephen J. Buhler, Attorney at Law

What different kinds of child custody are available?

When Salt Lake City residents are going through a divorce, there can be many contentious issues that arise between the spouses. The division of valuable assets is frequently disputed, along with issues involving spousal support or other financial arrangements. Perhaps no matter is more important, however, than determining the parties' child custody rights.

While child custody is often discussed as a general topic, there are actually different kinds of custody that are at stake in a divorce. It is important for individuals to understand the differences between these types of custody in advocating for their rights.

Individuals typically think of custody as being the individual with whom the children live. This is known as physical custody. There is also legal custody, however, which involves the parents' rights to make decisions about raising their children.

There are also different ways in which physical and legal custody can be divided. For instance, a parent can be given sole custody for both legal and physical custody. This means the children would not only live solely with the one parent, but also that parent would make the major decisions impacting the children's lives.

Conversely, the court may award joint custody to both parents. As the name implies, joint custody allows for an arrangement where the children live with both parents, as it relates to physical custody, and for both parents to make decisions about the child, when it comes to legal custody. Joint custody should not be confused with parenting time, otherwise known as visitation, which is a right a non-custodial parent has to see the children.

There can also be a split between the legal and physical custody. For example, the court may award sole physical custody to one parent, so the children live solely with that parent, while awarding joint legal custody to both parents at the same time.

In other cases, split custody may be found to be appropriate, which means each parent might be given sole physical custody over at least one of the children when multiple children are involved. As can be seen from this discussion, the general topic of child custody can be more complicated than people think, as the parties and the court have a number of options available that must be determined.

Source: Utah Courts, "Child custody and parent time," accessed on Oct. 10, 2015

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