When people think about child custody in divorce cases, they usually associate it with which parent the child will live with. However, there are actually two types of custody: physical and legal custody. The former is about where the child lives, but the latter is about which parent has the ability to make decisions about the child’s education, religion, health and other major issues. Although legal custody in usually shared, some parents in Washington may have sole legal custody.
Legal and physical custody are not necessarily entwined. It is common for parents to share legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody. However, when a parent does have sole legal custody, there are advantages and disadvantages. Sole legal custody means it can be easier for one parent to make a decision than for parents to have a consultation, particularly in emergency situations. Sole legal custody can give a child greater consistency. It can be difficult to determine whose ideas will prevail if parents are in disagreement.
Sole legal custody for one parent generally works best if there is a reason that the other parent is not easily available for consultation. Courts are unlikely to agree to sole legal custody if one parent simply wants to cut the other out of the decision-making process.
Parents may struggle to reach an agreement on legal and physical custody. In a divorce, issues that deal with the children can be the most emotional, and parents may struggle to reconcile their own feelings toward one another with the idea that the child benefits from time with both parents. However, courts usually work from the assumption that the participation of both parents in the child’s life is in the best interests of the child unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as abuse.