When parents divorce, they often get a crash course in legal jargon, such as the various types of child custody. Understanding the language around child custody is crucial to determining what you want to fight for and helping your attorney do so effectively.

What Is Joint Custody?

Some parents agree to joint custody of their children. This can mean a number of things. Parents may share physical custody of their children, with kids moving between their parents' homes. This is more common when parents remain in close proximity of each other.

However, joint custody can mean that only one parent has physical custody of the kids, but both have legal custody. Legal custody refers to who is legally entitled to make decisions for their children regarding things like education, medical care and religion. Some parents share in decision-making in all of these areas, while others will choose which areas each parent will have a legal say in.

Understanding Sole Custody

What if you want to be the only parent with physical and legal custody? That's called sole custody. With sole custody, the children live with one parent who makes all important decisions regarding their upbringing. The other parent usually has visitation rights to the child, unless there is an issue with abuse, alcohol or drug use or something else that would make it unsafe for that parent to care for a child alone, even for a brief period. Those visitation rights are detailed in the custody agreement and parenting plan and approved by the court.

If you're going to seek sole custody of your child, particularly if your co-parent is prepared to fight the move, it's essential to understand what a judge will consider. Many judges are disinclined to award one parent sole custody without good reason.

What's in the Child's Best Interest?

When faced with a request for sole custody, judges primarily consider what's in the best interests of the child. Just because you think your spouse is a lying, cheating, no-good jerk, that doesn't mean that he or she isn't a good parent. You must be prepared to argue that allowing your children to live with their other parent part of the time isn't in their best interests.

Your family law attorney can provide guidance regarding how best to go about seeking sole custody and how to improve your chances of convincing a judge that your child will be better off with that arrangement.