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What's the difference between sole and joint child custody?

The majority of parents would agree that custody should be based on the best interests of a child, but there may be a significant difference in opinion when it comes to determining what a child's best interest actually is. For Oregon parents who are unable to reach an agreement between themselves, court intervention might be appropriate. When a judge considers what type of child custody arrangement would be most appropriate, he or she must take several different factors into consideration before making a decision.

Aside from deciding parenting time, which is simply the time a child will live with each parent, it must also be determined who will be in charge of decision making. Referred to as joint or sole custody, joint custody allows parents to share the responsibility of making all major decisions in a child's life. Even if a child lives primarily with one parent and only lives with the other occasionally, joint custody still involves both parents as active decision makers.

Conversely, sole custody means that only one parent can make any decisions concerning major life decisions. Typically, this is the custodial parent, and he or she can then determine what type of education, home life and religion is in the child's best interest. While this parent can choose to ask the other parent's opinion concerning a certain decision, he or she is under no obligation to honor that opinion.

So what exactly does a judge look at when deciding whether joint or sole custody will benefit a child the most? The wishes of the custodial parent are typically considered, as well as income, lifestyle and any history of abuse. Additionally, if one parent objects to joint custody, a judge will likely not go this route as it requires a willingness to cooperate for the best interests of the child.

For many people in Oregon, child custody is a catch-all phrase that encompasses both where a child lives and which parent makes the decisions. However, based on a child's best interests, the two can be separate from one another. A child may indeed benefit from equal parenting time and joint custody, while another may live primarily with one parent who also has sole responsibility for decisions. Ultimately, any combination thereof should be made with only the child's best interests in mind.

Source: courts.orgeon.gov, "Child Custody and Parenting Time", Accessed on May 23, 2015

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