In the past, each state has regulated child custody matters. During the last twenty years, many states adopted the same laws dictating child guardianship and support.

Types of Child Custody

Child custody is the legal guardianship a parent has of their child. Sole custody of a child does not always mean that the other parent will not be allowed to see the child. It means that one parent is the primary caretaker and has physical custody of the child(ren).

Sole custody can be granted to one parent, and the other parent has visitation rights. The parents will need to agree on and adhere to a visitation schedule. If the court rules that the other parent is unfit, then visitation is usually denied. “Unfit” behavior includes:

• Mental instability
• History of drug or alcohol abuse
• History of violent behavior

The child(ren) live with the parent that has been granted physical custody. If the court granted joint physical custody, the parents must agree on when and for how long the child will live with each of them. They may decide that the child will live with one parent during the school year and with the other parent during the summer. If the location of the school is not an issue, they could decide on six-month intervals, alternating months, are any arrangement they both deem to be fair.

Legal custody (guardianship) determines who makes the important decisions regarding the child, such as:
• Religious upbringing
• Medical care
• Education

With joint legal custody, both parents are responsible for making these decisions.

Child Support Guidelines

When considering child support amounts, some of the factors considered are:

• The income of the spouse paying child support, and the number of children
• Both parents’ incomes, and the number of children.
• Childcare expenses
• Healthcare costs
• The cost of visitation expenses

If the parents have been granted joint physical custody, the ruling may be that neither parent pays support to the other. In this case, they both share day-to-day expenses when the child is with them. Sometimes, however, if one parent’s income is significantly more than the other parent, they probably will be ordered to make payments. Also, the parents will need to agree on payments for expenses such as camp, clothing, and insurance.

When the parents share joint legal custody, the custodial parent still has the child-care expenses; therefore the other parent will probably be required to pay child support.

Who is responsible for paying for college expenses or trade school is determined by the state the parents live in and any agreement the parents may have about this matter.

If you need specific information about the laws in your state, you may want to consult an attorney.