What Does Joint Custody Mean?

  •   |   Meghan Freed

There is a lot of “legalese” in divorce and family law, but many of the “must know” legal terms fall into the child custody and visitation category. It’s no wonder people ask our divorce attorneys: “What does joint custody mean?”

Read on to learn more.

Joint Custody Definition

Joint Custody is what it’s called when a court orders custody of a minor child to both parents. There are two types of joint custody: joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Generally speaking, when someone refers to “joint custody” and doesn’t specify whether it’s legal or physical, it means that both are joint.

Legal and Physical Custody

Custody falls into two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

  • Legal custody: refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing, such as the medical care they receive, where they go to school, and what religious faith they are brought up in.
  • Physical custody: addresses where a child will live on a regular basis.

Joint Legal Custody

Where parents have joint legal custody, both will typically have the right to participate in making major decisions regarding their child.

Generally speaking, under a joint legal custody arrangement, parents are obligated to consult with one another regarding major decisions affecting the child. Major decisions often involve those related to the child’s health, growth and development, choice of schools, religion, course of study, travel, employment, sports, activities, and significant changes in the child’s social environment.

However, when a parent is with the child, they usually have the right to make less significant, day-to-day decisions. This might include, for example, what the child will wear.

That said, joint legal custody works differently in different parenting plans. In some cases, the parents work together to reach all decisions jointly. In other situations, certain decisions may be allocated to a specific parent. For example, one parent may have the right to decide a child’s extracurricular activities, while the other parent may have the right to choose the child’s school. Other parenting plans may require that parents consult with one another on major issues, but give one parent may have the final say if they can’t reach an agreement.

Commonly, in joint custody arrangements, both parents typically have the right to make emergency decisions on the child’s behalf without consulting with the other parent.

Joint Physical Custody

Often, parents that share joint legal custody also share joint physical custody, with one parent designated as the primary custodial figure. This is also expressed as the child having “primary residence” with one parent.

What’s the Opposite of Joint Custody?

The opposite of joint custody is sole custody. As with joint, you can have sole legal custody, sole physical custody, or both. Just because a parent has sole physical custody doesn’t mean that the other parent doesn’t have visitation rights. Even if your ex has sole physical custody of your child, you still have parental rights. For example, there are often still child support obligations and visitation rights, even when the other parent has sole custody. In other words, not having custody of a child is not the same as having your parental rights terminated.

Third Party Custody

In Connecticut, there is an alternative to sole custody and joint custody called third party custody. Third party custody is when the court awards custody to someone other than a parent. When it comes to a custody dispute between a parent and a non-parent, there’s a presumption that it is in the child’s best interest to be in that parent’s custody. The non-parent may rebut the presumption in favor of the parent by showing that it would be detrimental to the child.

Modifying or Changing Custody

When the court finalized your divorce, it issued a divorce decree. That divorce decree is a final, enforceable court order. But sometimes, some of that order doesn’t work for you and your family and there are Post Judgment issues with the parenting plan.

A Motion to Modify can be used to adjust the terms of a parenting plan or custody agreement so that they more accurately reflect your child’s needs as they grow. As always, any modifications to a parenting plan must be in the child’s best interests.

Some examples of reasons a parent might file a Motion to Modify custody or parenting include:

  • Seeking a change from joint custody to sole custody or from sole custody to joint custody
  • Seeking additional parenting time
  • Hoping to relocate
  • Changes to a parent’s work schedule
  • Adjustments to a child’s school or activity schedule

Next Steps

For more information about Connecticut divorce and family law, check out our Divorce Information and Facts. If you have questions or want to learn more about how our team of divorce attorneys can help you with your divorce or Post Judgment issue, please contact us here.

Freed Marcroft LLC

Freed Marcroft LLC