The Four Types of Child Custody Agreements


The primary purpose of Child custody agreements is to uphold the best interests of children. In most cases, the needs and desires of divorcing parents also play a role. Before setting their minds on a particular type of custody agreement, parents should learn about all their options. They can get started by finding out about the four main types of custody agreements below.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is the most commonplace type of custody agreement in the United States. It allows both of the divorcing parents to share both physical and legal custody, meaning that they’re both responsible for the child’s upbringing. Both parents will cooperate and make shared decisions about not just where the child lives at any given time, but also how he or she will be raised.

In most cases, judges believe that joint custody is in the best interests of children. This arrangement allows children of divorced couples to maintain contact with both of their parents. It also spreads the burden of child-rearing across both parties.

Sole Custody

Sole custody, also referred to as full custody, used to be much more common. Now, it’s relatively rare. Judges typically assume that children will benefit more from maintaining relationships with both of their parents unless they have a compelling reason to believe otherwise. In most cases, judges only assign sole custody if one of the parents is unfit to care for a child.

In sole custody arrangements, one parent maintains exclusive custody rights. The child lives with the custodial parent full-time, and he or she makes all of the decisions regarding how the child will be raised. In most cases, the non-custodial parent is still entitled to visitation rights, but they may be limited to supervised visits in cases involving abuse or neglect.

Non-Parental Custody

It’s very rare for courts to award custody to non-parents. In most cases, this only comes up if neither of the divorcing parents is fit to care for the child, or if the child has been living with a third party prior to the divorce. If a third party wants to assume custody of a child, the onus is on that person to prove that both of the parents are unfit to care for children.

Split Custody

It’s common for uninformed parents to confuse split custody with joint custody. However, the two are very different agreements. Split custody refers to arrangements where each parent assumes full custody of one or more children. Most judges feel that separating siblings compounds the potentially damaging effects of divorce, so courts are unlikely to award split custody unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances.

Circumstances that sometimes warrant split custody include the presence of disabilities or special needs, significant age disparities between siblings, and other unusual situations. Judges will also take both the parents and the children’s preferences into account when ruling on a split custody agreement.

The Bottom Line

Joint custody is the most common type of custody agreement for a reason. It’s almost always in the best interests of children to maintain relationships with both of their parents. However, it’s still wise for divorcing couples to understand all their options. When in doubt, consult a custody attorney.

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