Honesty, Integrity, Empathy

Are custody and parenting time the same thing?

On Behalf of | Feb 5, 2023 | Family Law Topics, Firm News

Many parents do not realize until they experience a custody or parenting-time dispute that NO – custody and parenting time are not the same thing. Both custody and parenting time are issues to be resolved in Minnesotadivorceproceedings, for example, when the spouses share minor children. And child custody arrangements and parenting time schedules are often decided at the same time.

However, custody outlines the legal and practical relationship between parent and child, whereas parenting time is the time that each parent spends with the child(ren), no matter what the custody arrangement is. Parenting time is sometimes referred to (colloquially) as “visitation.”

There are two type of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody means the right to make major life decisions regarding the upbringing of the child. These major life decisions include education, medical treatment (usually non-emergency health care), and the religious upbringing. For example, legal custody decisions may include choosing a child’s doctor or clinic, enrolling the child in a particular school, enrolling the child in religious education classes, etc. Physical custody refers to the residence, daily care, and control of the minor child(ren). Generally, physical custody means which parent the child(ren) will reside with the majority of the time and on a day-to-day basis.

Admittedly, physical custody is difficult to conceptualize as a separate thing from “parenting time,” which was more newly developed in the law. (Even many practitioners would be hard pressed to explain why and how the two things are different!) But parenting time generally refers to a specific schedule for the minor child, whereas the physical custody arrangement does not refer to a specific schedule. Parenting time can address the children’s schedules, the parties’ schedules, transportation, and where the children will lay their heads at night. Physical custody does set forth those details.

Legal custody can be be either “sole” or “joint” (also referred to as “shared”). And physical custody can be either “sole” or “joint.” Designations can be mixed as well – for example, parents might share legal custody but dad may have sole physical custody. So what is the difference between “sole” and “joint”? Sole means that one parent has the right to control, whereas joint requires the parties to make decisions together. Sole legal custody, for example,means that one parent has the right to choose the child’s religion, doctors, etc., without needing to ask permission from the other parent or proactively placing the other party on notice of such decisions. Joint legal custody, for example,means that both parties would make those decisions together and that each party has an equal right and responsibility to be involved in the decision-making process for the child.

This post only scratches the surface on the issues of custody and parenting time. The takeaway is that these topics can be complicated and nuanced. A skilled family law attorney can help you navigate custody and parenting time issues. To discuss any issues you may have at this time with Angela Streit and learn how legal representation may help you, please click the “Request a Free Consultation” link at the top of the page here to schedule.