In a custody case, both physical custody and legal custody must be agreed upon or determined by a judge. Legal custody specifies which parent, or both parents if joint legal custody, has the right to make important decisions for the child(ren) including education, health care, etc. Physical custody is the right to make decisions about the day-to-day activities of the child(ren).
When parties are looking at physical custody, specifically the visitation schedule, there are some important items to keep at the forefront when determining the schedule that is in the best interests of the child(ren):
- Child’s age – when looking at children of infant age, they should spend the majority of their time with their primary caregiver, and have a schedule that allows the child to have a regular routine. Toddlers need a regular schedule that allows adequate time with both parents to allow them to establish a strong relationship with them both. As children age and enter into school, the primary consideration generally is to limit the amount of times they need to switch households in a week so as to allow focus on school work and less disruption of any extra curricular activities.
- Distance between homes – if there is a great distance between the homes, it is logical and easier on all involved to make exchanges less frequent, allowing for longer time with each parent.
- Safety – a child(ren) should be able to grow and strengthen their relationship with each of their parents, however, it is of the utmost importance that the safety and well-being of the child is considered first, and that can sometimes make for difficult decisions and situations if one parent has a lifestyle, or is in a time in their life that they cannot provide that safe environment for the child. If this is a fact of the case, then a neutral third party may need to be involved to provide for supervised visitation.
- Special considerations – give special consideration to the other parent if they have a special work schedule, are in the military, etc. so that their time is not interrupted or shortened due to special and unavoidable circumstances. Allowing some give and take and flexibility is important to keep the relationship functioning between both parents and the parents and children, and allow the child(ren) comfortably moving from one household to the other.