Your attorney should explain the difference is between joint custody and sole custody—but here are the basics. When the court does not believe the parents can cooperate well enough to work together for the child, the court will award sole custody to one parent over the other. In most cases however, joint custody is based on the courts belief that encouraging parents to work together for the best interests of the child is of utmost importance in developing a healthy relationship with both parents and the child.
Joint custody means that both parents share the responsibilities of the children and should work together to approve any major decisions related to the children’s lives. For this reason, most courts encourage joint custody, whereby one parent is still the custodial parent (where the child lives most of the time, sometimes called the “residential parent”) and the other parent is the noncustodial parent (the parent with whom the child has visitation with on a regular basis, sometimes called the “nonresidential parent”). The reason is straightforward and simple—having both parents in a child’s life is important for literally dozens of reasons to help a child grow up with positive influences from both parents. Judges look specifically to how the parents interact with each other in making a joint custody decision.
Sole custody of a child, which is granted in some situations, is where the primary care giver (custodial parent) does not need to work with the other parent to develop plans of how the child should be raised or to make big decisions on medical procedures or little decisions such as after school activities. However, many courts are now moving towards allowing the non-custodial parent certain rights regarding serious medical procedures and extreme sports. An award of sole custody to the other parent does not mean that a noncustodial parent will be in the dark about their child. Quite to the contrary, both parents are normally still granted equal rights to school functions, medical information, school information, and the ability and right to to spend quality parenting time (also called “visitation) with their child. Sole custody does not mean your rights have been taken away – it normally just means that you and the other parent cannot work together to co-parent.