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Child Custody | Family

What Is the Most Common Custody Arrangement?

7 min read
Philip Ahn, Attorney

by Philip Ahn, Attorney

Joint custody is the most common type of child custody arrangement. But there are different types of joint custody. And in some cases, sole custody may be the best solution. Here’s what to consider when negotiating child custody.

Every parent wants the best for their child. Unfortunately, during a divorce, parents may find themselves fighting over various issues — including who gets custody of their children. Generally, courts tend to gravitate towards a 50/50 custody arrangement when both parents share parenting responsibilities and can spend equal amounts of time with their children. However, sole custody and primary physical custody are also a possibility.

Ideally, the divorcing couple should come to an arrangement regarding custody and visitation that will be in the child’s and both parents’ best interests. But if this doesn’t happen and the parties cannot come to an agreement, the court will make a decision. If it comes to this, you and your partner will require legal representation to present your case.

While the justice system allows parents to represent themselves in a custody case, most legal professionals advise against this. Self-representation in court can put you at a considerable disadvantage and lead to an unfavorable outcome. Without relevant legal experience, navigating court processes and protecting your parental rights will be exceptionally hard.

A free consultation with an experienced family attorney is the best way to figure out what makes sense in your custody case. A professional custody attorney will know the laws that apply to your case, ensure your interests are protected, and work on getting you the best custody arrangement possible.

Types of Custody Arrangements

When discussing child custody arrangements, we often use the terms full or sole custody and joint or shared custody. It’s essential to make several distinctions here. 

There are two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody

Legal custody means the ability to make decisions regarding your children’s care (health, education, welfare, etc.). Physical custody determines which parent the child will live with and which parent will have visitation rights. 

Both legal and physical custody can be either joint or sole. Here’s how it works:

Sole legal custody means that only one of the parents has the responsibility to make decisions about the welfare of their children. The scope of this decision-making generally includes the following spheres:

  • Childcare and education
  • Religious activities
  • Medical treatments
  • Mental health and other forms of counseling 
  • Extra-curricular activities, summer camps, vacations, etc.
  • All types of travel 
  • Permanent residence —- and so on. 

Joint legal custody is an arrangement in which both parents have equal rights to make these decisions above. This doesn’t necessarily mean that both parents must agree on all aspects of their children’s lives. But to avoid returning to court, they are encouraged to communicate and arrive at compromises.

Sole physical custody presupposes that the child resides with one of the parents most of the time while the other parent has visitation rights. In most cases, parents will be able to set their visitation schedule. If the co-parents can’t agree, the court assigns the visitation schedule. 

Joint physical custody means that both parents share equal rights to have the child reside with them. However, this doesn’t mean that the child will spend the exact amount of time with each parent. In practice, splitting childcare in half is often too complicated. As a result, one of the parents usually spends more time with the child and is defined as the primary custodial parent. 

In some cases, the court may decide joint legal and sole physical custody. Both parents share the decision-making responsibilities for their child. The child will reside with one parent. The parent who doesn’t have physical custody of the child will be given visitation rights. 

If you’d like to learn more about child custody, check out The Ultimate Guide to Child Custody for more information.

Why Is Joint Custody the Most Common Arrangement?

Joint legal custody is the most common custody arrangement granted by courts. Why is that?

One of the most significant advantages of joint custody is that a child will grow up with influence and input from both parents. When both parents participate in the child’s life, they can often build a meaningful relationship with the child, reducing the stress of a divorce.

Another advantage of joint custody is that it allows for shared responsibility. Thus, such an arrangement gives each parent more time to arrange their professional and personal lives and enjoy more uninterrupted moments with their child. 

However, while joint custody is the best possible arrangement in most cases, there are still instances where it may not be in the child’s best interests. For example, the judge will most likely lean towards sole custody if the child’s parents reside in different cities or countries and don’t get along. Sole custody will also be awarded if one of the parents cannot perform their parental duties (due to factors like addiction, mental health problems, a history of domestic violence or abuse, incarceration, or lack of interest in their child’s life).

The final custody decision for your case will be guided by the best option for your family’s unique situation. When ruling, the judge will be guided by what is in your child’s best interest.

Do I Need a Lawyer in a Custody Case?

Nothing can prevent you from representing yourself in a custody case. However, without professional legal help, you will be at a considerable disadvantage. Attorneys have an in-depth knowledge of local custody laws, whereas you may not be able to see your options clearly or have the skills necessary to make your case effectively in court. Moreover, the stress of a divorce and changing life circumstances will also make it difficult to look at the situation objectively and develop a proper strategy.

An experienced custody lawyer will look into your case and give you a realistic estimation of your situation. They will help you decide what is the best custody arrangement in your case and help make your case in court. Custody proceedings also tend to take a lot of time, and working with an experienced lawyer can help you achieve a resolution faster. 

Are Custody Lawyers Expensive?

As with most situations that require legal assistance, the cost of your child custody lawyer depends on the complexity of your case. Typical custody lawyers charge a flat fee for handling your whole case, and these fees may range from $3,000 to $5,000 and more. If your case is particularly complicated, you can expect to pay an additional $300 to $500 per hour for any extra work your lawyer will need.

Total fees for family lawyers are expensive because they provide a comprehensive set of services. This includes gathering evidence for your case, representing you in court, drafting agreements, negotiating with the other parent, and helping you understand the divorce process. If your custody battle is complicated, you will benefit from full representation.

The thing is — you might not need all these services to prepare your case. For instance, you may need a lawyer solely to help draft a custody agreement or assist you in court. In this scenario, using unbundled legal services can potentially help you save thousands of dollars.

With unbundled legal services, you have the option to assign specific duties to your lawyer and take on the rest of the work yourself. At Unbundled Legal Help, we can put you in touch with an unbundled lawyer from our network, so you can get a price quote and evaluate the potential costs of your custody case. We mainly cooperate with small law firms and individual attorneys that offer payment plans. As a result, your legal fees may be as low as $500 to $1,500.

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