General Information About Child Custody and Visitation
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
First, and foremost, parents must understand the differences between "joint legal custody" and "physical custody" as there are distinct and important differences.
Some states have "joint custody" laws that encourage family court judges to grant parents "joint legal custody" which means that each parent has right to participate in decisions concerning their children's medical treatment, education, and religious training.
These states also give courts the authority to award "physical custody" to one or both parents. "Physical custody" means a determination of where the child actually lives. Since it is generally found best for the children that they spend the majority of their time with one parent, one parent may be granted "primary physical custody" while the other is granted "secondary physical custody" or, in the more popular vernacular, "visitation rights." The parent with "physical custody" or "primary physicial custody" is sometimes called the custodial parent while the other is called the "non-custodial parent."
Generally speaking, the non-custodial parent is awarded by court decree or by agreement specific, scheduled times with the children which may include alternate weekends, time after school or in the evenings each week, and a reasonble portion of scheduled school holidays and vacation time.
With our mobile society, relocation of children has become a big issue in come cases. Dependent on the circumstances, judges can issue orders restraining the custodial parent from moving the children from one geographical area to another -- especially when the non-custodial parent spends considerable time with the children and their removal would be disruptive to the children's future development. In some instances, grandparents' rights are also added to the mix, thus making relocation even more complicated.
Some states, such as California, may allow a custodial parent to determine where the children live provided the move is not made with the ulterior purpose to refuse the non-custodial parent time with the the children.
Always check with a matrimonial lawyer where you live to find out the latest developments in your state before you act.