Child Custody In Divorce

In the United States, two types of child custody are physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where the child lives, while legal custody refers to the right to make important child welfare decisions, such as education, religion, and medical care.

Divorce is a difficult and emotional process, especially when children are involved. Therefore, child custody is one of the most important issues divorcing parents face. In the United States, child custody laws vary from state to state. However, some general principles apply across the country.

Types of Custody

In the United States, two types of child custody are physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where the child lives, while legal custody refers to the right to make important child welfare decisions, such as education, religion, and medical care.

Sole custody is when one parent has physical and legal custody of the child. Joint custody is when both parents share physical and legal custody. Joint physical custody means that the child spends significant time with both parents. In contrast, joint legal custody means that both parents have the right to make important child welfare decisions.

Factors Considered in Child Custody

When determining child custody, courts consider the best interests of the child. This means that the court considers various factors, including:

  1. The child’s age, sex, and health;
  2. The child’s relationship with each parent;
  3. Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs;
  4. Each parent’s history of abuse, neglect, or substance abuse;
  5. The child’s relationship with other family members, such as siblings or grandparents;
  6. Each parent’s ability to cooperate and communicate with the other parent regarding the child’s welfare;
  7. The child’s preference is if the child is old enough to express a preference.

In some states, courts may also consider the parent’s marital misconduct or their preference for a particular religion, education, or lifestyle.

Custody Agreements

In many cases, divorcing parents can agree on a custody arrangement without going to court. This is called a custody agreement or parenting plan. The agreement should include the following:

  1. The type of custody (sole or joint);
  2. The schedule for visitation and exchange of the child;
  3. The child’s living arrangements, including where the child will spend holidays and vacations;
  4. How the child’s expenses will be shared between the parents;
  5. How the child’s education and medical needs will be addressed;
  6. A dispute resolution process.

Parents who cannot agree on a custody arrangement may need to go to court. In court, a judge will determine custody based on the child’s best interests.

Modifying Custody Orders

After a custody order is in place, either parent can ask the court to modify the order if there has been a significant change in circumstances. For example, a modification may be necessary if one parent moves to a different state or if one parent’s job schedule changes.

Enforcing Custody Orders

If one parent violates a custody order, the other parent can ask the court to enforce the order. This may involve filing a contempt motion or seeking a custody order modification. 

Explaining To Your Child

Explaining a divorce to a child can be a difficult and emotional task. However, it is important to approach the conversation with care and sensitivity. Here are some tips on how to explain to your child that you are getting a divorce:

  1. Prepare yourself emotionally: Before talking to your child about the divorce, it is important to make sure you are emotionally prepared. This can be a challenging conversation, and you must be patient and understanding with your child.
  2. Choose the right time and place: Make sure you choose a time and place where your child feels comfortable and safe. Avoid breaking the news when your child is upset or stressed about something else. Choose a quiet and private location to have a calm and uninterrupted conversation.
  3. Be honest and direct: When explaining the divorce to your child, it is important to be honest, and direct. Use age-appropriate language, and avoid giving your child too much information they may not understand. Be clear and concise, and avoid blaming your spouse or going into too much detail about the reasons for the divorce.
  4. Reassure your child: It is important to reassure them that they are not responsible for the divorce and that both parents still love them. Ensure your child understands that they will still have a relationship with both parents and will be taken care of.
  5. Encourage your child to express their feelings: Your child may have a range of emotions in response to the divorce news. Please encourage your child to express their feelings and let them know that being sad, angry, or confused is okay. Listen to your child without judgment and validate their emotions.
  6. Provide ongoing support: It is important to provide ongoing support to your child as they adjust to the changes that come with divorce. Keep the lines of communication open and be available to answer any questions your child may have. Ensure your child knows they can come to you with concerns or worries.
  7. Seek professional help if necessary: If you are struggling to have this conversation with your child or if your child has a hard time coping with the divorce, it may be helpful to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide additional support and guidance for you and your child.

In conclusion, explaining divorce to your child is difficult, but with the right approach, you can help your child navigate this challenging time. Be honest and direct, reassure your child, encourage them to express their feelings, provide ongoing support, and seek professional help. Remember, the most important thing is to help your child feel loved, supported, and safe during this transition.


Child custody is a complex and emotional issue in divorce. Courts in the United States consider the child’s best interests when deciding custody. Parents can agree on a custody arrangement, or a judge can decide in court. Custody orders can be modified if there has been a significant change in circumstances, and custody orders can be enforced if one parent violates the order. If you are facing child custody issues, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who can help you protect your rights and your child’s best interests.

Related Posts:

Should I Get A Divorce?

How Much Does A Divorce Cost?

Financial Checklist For Divorce

Co-Parenting: Things You Need To Know

Co-Parenting: A Note From A Marriage Counsellor


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