Child Custody in Connecticut: Joint Legal Custody and Joint Physical Custody

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody:

In cases involving children, determinations regarding custody and visitation must be made by the parties, or if they cannot agree, by the court. When faced with issues related to custody, it is helpful to first understand the difference between legal custody and physical custody. Generally speaking, legal custody refers to the respective rights of parents to make major decisions regarding a child, whereas physical custody refers to the rights of parents to have in-person access to the child.

Joint Legal Custody:

Determinations regarding legal custody often include an award of joint custody or sole custody. Where parents have joint legal custody, both will typically have the right to participate in making major decisions regarding their child. Notably, where the term “joint custody” is used absent a distinction between legal custody and physical custody, it is presumed that the phrase is referring to both. Indeed, as set forth in C.G.S. 46b-56a(a), joint custody is defined as “an order awarding legal custody of the minor child to both parents, providing for joint decision making by the parents and providing that physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of continuing contact with both parents.”

Generally speaking, under a joint legal custody arrangement, parents are obligated to consult with one another regarding major decisions affecting the child. Major decisions often involve those related to the child’s health, growth and development, choice of schools, religion, course of study, travel, employment, sports and activities and significant changes in the child’s social environment. On the other hand, the parent with physical custody of the child usually has the right to make less significant, day-to-day decisions while the child is in his or her care. This allows a parent to determine, for example, what the child will wear to school, or what the child will have for dinner, without the necessity of repeatedly consulting the other parent throughout the day.

Even in the context of a joint legal custody arrangement, the degree to which each parent has a right to participate in the decision-making process may be considerably different from one case to the next. In one case the parents may be on completely equal footing, whereas in another case certain decisions may be allocated to one parent or the other. For example, one parent may have the right to make decisions regarding the child’s education, while the other parent may have the right to make decisions regarding the child’s medical treatment. In other cases, the parents may be required to consult with one another on major issues concerning the children, but one parent may have final say with respect to certain issues. It should also be noted that in joint custody arrangements both parents typically have the right to make emergency decisions on the child’s behalf without consulting with the other parent. For example, if the child is injured while in one parent’s care, that parent generally has the right to make decisions related to emergent treatment.

Joint Physical Custody:

Most often, parents that share joint legal custody also share joint physical custody, with one parent designated as the primary custodial figure. Typically, “joint physically custody” does not mean “shared custody” or “50/50” parenting time. Rather joint custody refers to arrangements whereby the child lives with one parent on a primary basis, subject to flexible and liberal visitation with the other parent. A classic example of a joint custody arrangement involves the child living with his or her mother, subject to visitation with his or her father every other weekend (often overnight, beginning after school on Friday afternoon through Sunday evening), as well as one or two evening visits per week for dinner. This is by no means a rule, however, and this model is becoming antiquated as parties are increasingly turning to more innovative and creative models.

In fact, today it is not at all uncommon to see parents using a truly shared parenting model where each parent has equal time with the child each week, or each month. By way of example, parties may agree to a week on/week off arrangement, or even a three or four day split, balanced to minimize disruptive transitions. The appropriateness of a particular schedule varies as parenting plans are often influenced by the child’s age, the child’s school and/or activity schedule, the parents’ respective work schedules and/or the distance between the parent’s homes.

By Maya Murphy, P.C., Connecticut
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph C. Maya, Esq.
Joseph C. Maya is the Managing Partner at Maya Murphy, P.C., and handles cases involving these legal issues in New York and Connecticut.

Copyright Maya Murphy, P.C.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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