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is Child Custody?
refers to who has legal decision-making authority in the life of a child. The
decision-making authority is usually in regard to major life issues such as
religion, education, health and activities.
in two-parent, intact families, parents share decision-making authority. The
decision making process between co-habiting parents may reflect mutual input and
a consensus model or a distribution of responsibilities where one parent takes a
primary role with respect to making decisions and the other parent, generally in
agreement and trusting with the decisions, takes a secondary role. Still in
other families and depending on the actual issue to be decided, parents may
alternate between a mutual-consensus model and a primary-secondary model.
parents separate, there may be conflict between them on the decisions affecting
their childís life. There may also be conflict on the matter of where the
child resides and how time with each parent is structured. However, custody
really pertains to matters affecting decision-making authority and access refers
to time spent between child and each parent. Oftentimes, these matters are
confused and the parent who seeks custody may do so also with the view that the
child reside with them a greater proportion of time than with the other parent.
But these are separate issues.
separated parents are in agreement on major issues affecting the life of their
child and have little or no concern for the judgment of each other, they can opt
for joint custody, sometimes also referred to as shared custody. Here both
parents legally have an equal say as to decisions affecting their child. It is
assumed that they can reach decisions either by consensus or by one acquiescing
to the judgment of the other. Joint custody respects the equally important role
of both parents in the childís life and may facilitate less conflict and more
involvement on the part of both parents. From the childís point of view, this
can mean more harmonious relationships which in theory leads to better
adjustment. Typically joint custody works best where there are low levels of
conflict between the parents or even in moderate conflict but where the parents
can resolve disputes maturely. In some cases, parents opt for joint custody
knowing they may periodically require the support of a mediator to reach certain
decisions. If matters of violence, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness or more
than moderate levels of parental conflict exist, joint custody may be
contra-indicated as it can lead to further conflict and distress to which the
child would be exposed with potentially harmful consequences.
recently, the concept of parallel parenting has entered into the social science
literature. This form of joint custody denotes that major decisions are likely
already in place, the result of mediation or Court Order and that both parents
otherwise retain decision making authority whilst the child is in their
respective care. In other words, both parents may make decisions about things
like activities, as long as they do not interfere with the childís time with
the other parent.
the event of more than moderate levels of parental conflict, concerns of abuse,
violence, drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness or poor judgment, then
decision-making authority may be vested in one parent only. This is to mitigate
concerns or limit risks in the life of the child. Referred to as sole custody,
the sole-custodial parent has legal authority to make unilateral decisions
affecting the life of their child. However and as noted above, this still
remains separate from issues of access unless access decisions are specifically
included within the span of decision-making authority.
Typically, children adjust and develop best when both parents can participate meaningfully in the childís life. Each restriction on a parentís role may have the effect of increasing the likelihood of a poor outcome for the child. However, a childís well-being may also be affected by a parentís deficiencies and hence a parentís role, access and relationship may have to be subject to limitations. Sole custody is then considered a necessity if on balance, the childís well-being would be compromised by a sharing of decision-making authority.
Still fighting child custody issues? Use this:
To track your child custody schedule, use this:
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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