What options are there for legal custody?
There are 2 options for legal custody: sole legal custody or joint legal custody.
A judge may give you or the other parent sole legal custody. A parent with sole legal custody has the right to make major decisions about the child, while the other parent does not have that right. If you have sole legal custody, you get to make decisions about things like the child’s education, healthcare and religion.
A judge may also give you joint legal custody with the other parent. In this case, both you and the other parent would share the same rights and responsibilities to make the major decisions affecting your child’s life. This means that both parents get to decide things like where your child goes to school, what kind of religious training your child receives, and whether your child needs surgery. Often times in domestic violence situations, this is not a good option because it requires you and the abuser to talk, negotiate, and agree on decisions.
It is possible that both parents can have joint legal custody while only one parent has physical custody. This means that the child lives with one parent, but both parents make the major decisions about the child’s welfare.
What options are there for physical custody?
There are 2 options for physical custody: sole physical custody or joint physical custody.
In Oklahoma, if you have sole physical custody of your child, then your child lives with you and not with the other parent (but may visit the other parent on weekends or for other time periods). A parent with primary physical custody is sometimes called a child’s “primary caretaker,” or “custodial parent.” Generally, the custodial parent is the person who has responsibility for the everyday care of your child and the everyday decisions that affect that care.
You can have sole physical custody of your child and share legal custody with the other parent. This means that while your child lives with you and not with the other parent, but the other parent still has the right to help make major decisions regarding the child. Sometimes, a judge will call this type of arrangement “joint custody” with the mother (or father) as the “primary custodian.” This means that the parents have joint legal custody, but the child mostly lives with one parent.
If a judge orders joint physical custody, your child will live part-time with you part-time with the other parent. The child may or may not spend equal amounts of time with each parent but both of you will have frequent contact with the child. For example, your child may spend weekdays with you, and weekends (or alternating weekends) with the other parent.
When there is joint physical custody, both parents share the rights of making day-to-day decisions about your child and the responsibilities of caring for your child while the child is with you. Some things that parents with joint physical custody will both be responsible for include:
- feeding your child,
- bathing your child, and
- putting your child to bed at night.
When a court orders joint physical custody, the court is required to enter a “joint custody plan” that spells out in detail the rights and responsibilities of each parent. The plan should also address what should be done if the parents disagree on a major decision – for example, sometimes the court designates one parent as the “tie-breaker” or sometimes the court requires mediation. The judge can also order that the parents go to arbitration to resolve disagreements over the interpretation of language in the order. If the parents refuse arbitration, the judge can deny joint custody.1
1 43 Okla. St. § 109(H)