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Legal Custody, Physical Custody, Sole Custody, and Joint Custody - What's the Difference?

The term "custody" often has very different meanings to different people. For instance, what one person considers to be a "joint custody" arrangement may not be joint custody at all, at least from a legal perspective. So, let's take a look at how Indiana law defines different types of custody.

The first distinction in types of custody is between legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the authority of parents to make important decisions about their child, such as decisions related to medical care, education, and religion. It is very common for separated or divorced parents in Indiana to share joint legal custody of their child. This means that they have to talk about and make these important decisions about their child together. Obviously, this arrangement works a whole lot better when parents are able to put their differences aside and communicate with one another.

On the other hand, physical custody is where a child lives most of the time. In most cases, one parent has physical custody, and the other parent has parenting time, or visitation, with the child. Parents can agree on a schedule for parenting time for the parent without physical custody, or the non-custodial parent, or they can follow the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines. These guidelines set a schedule for a child to visit with his or her non-custodial parent when the parents have not agreed to an alternate schedule.

Finally, there is a distinction between sole and joint custody that is fairly straightforward. In some cases, such as where a parent in uninvolved, lives far away from the child, or incarcerated, the other parent will receive sole custody. This means that not only does the child live with that parent on a full-time basis, but also that the parent has the authority to make all decisions on behalf of the child.

Joint custody obviously involves both parents. Typically, joint custody refers to joint legal custody, as discussed above. More rarely, parents may have true joint physical custody, but it is a rare situation that requires parents to work closely together and cooperate in order to raise their child. In this situation, some children may spend one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent, and so on and so forth. In other situations, a child might spend three or four days each week with one parent, and the remainder of the week with the other parent.

Many different factors can impact custody of a child, making it a fairly complicated area of the law. Every case is different, so don't assume that your case will turn out just like your sister or your neighbor's cases. For more information about custody laws in the state of Indiana, contact Arnold Law Office at 765-962-3344 or 866-958-5995.

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