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Custody Labels – Don't let the law interfere with your parenting

Custody Labels – Don’t let them create a legal fight.

Custody labels: Don’t let legal terms like “legal custody” or “physical custody” intimidate you. It’s not that complicated. Everything that’s important to you about the care of your kids is still what matters. You and your ex get to figure out how to handle parenting now that you’re living separately. If you have disagreements about parenting, you might benefit from transformative mediation; but don’t imagine that the law provides helpful answers.
Legal Custody: You and your ex can share “joint” legal custody of your kids; or one of you can have “sole” legal custody of the kids. This label determines whether both of you or just one of you have the right to medical and school information; and whether both or one of you have the authority to give medical authorization. It’s much like saying that you’re both still legal guardians if you have joint legal custody, or only one of you is a legal guardian if you have sole legal custody. Unless you’re in an extreme situation, you probably want to share joint legal custody.
Physical Custody: It’s really too bad that this concept exists. It creates a lot of unnecessary conflict. In fact, many legislatures, including Minnesota’s, have tried to eliminate this language, because it doesn’t really clarify anything. In the old days, if one parent had “sole” physical custody, that parent was more able to move out of the state against the other parent’s wishes. Also in the old days, if a parent had “sole” physical custody, that parent would receive more child support. Nowadays, lawyers still like to fight about physical custody because it’s a great way to generate a lot of fees. But in reality, which label you choose has very little to do with how your parenting will go. In fact, the greatest predictor of whether your ongoing parenting relationship will be a nightmare is whether you litigate about physical custody. So don’t worry about your physical custody label. Call it “joint” for both of you or call it “sole” for one of you – but focus on real issues like who will provide parenting when, and figure those out cooperatively. The physical custody label only matters if you plan to litigate with each other in the future. And if you plan to litigate in the future, you’re screwed no matter what.