A newly divorcing parent suddenly finds that they have to learn an entire new language-the legal language of custody. There are so many terms that it is easy to get overwhelmed or confused. Here is a basic guide to the common legal terms in custody situations.
Joint Custody. Also called: Shared custody, Coparenting, Shared parenting. Joint custody can refer to physical or legal joint custody. Physical is when parents share the physical time with their child. The child lives about equal time with both parents. Legal is when parents share the decision making process for their child. Both parents give input to education, religious, and health decisions. All of these terms imply that the parents are working together to raise the children. This is the alternative to sole custody. Sole is when one parent has the majority of time with the child and the other parent visits. And when one parent makes all the decisions about the children.
Child Custody Agreement. Also called: Parenting Plan, Child Visitation Agreement. The child custody agreement defines the terms of the arrangement for child custody. It explains what type of parenting plan the parents have (joint, sole, etc) and it also has the visitation schedule. The visitation schedule is the terms for the parent visiting the child. Included in this are the holiday visitation schedule and vacation schedule. The agreement also includes any provisions or stipulations the parents have about the agreement (like, if the parents have to give a copy of an itinerary to the other parent before going on vacation). After the agreement is presented to and accepted by the court, the court makes it an order. The custody court order is the legal agreement for the parenting plan. The parents must honor the agreement or they will be held in contempt of court.
Child Custody Court. Also called: Family court. This is the court that accepts the child custody forms and papers that you have to turn in when you file for child custody. This is the county court in your state. It is the same court where you file for divorce.
Child Custody Mediation: Mediation is where you and the child’s other parent meet with a neutral third party to work out your custody agreement. You can seek out private mediation or sometimes it is available through the court. Some states require that the parents attend mediation before going to court.
These are the most common terms you’ll hear when involved in a child custody situation. Once you get used to the language, it makes the whole process a lot less confusing. And, once you understand the legal terms, you are free to move on to the more important issues–like creating your parenting plan and spending time with your child.