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The difference between 'sole' and 'joint' custody

Custody of children during a divorce or separation of unmarried partners can be one of the most contentious issues to resolve. Because most people want to have as much access and responsibility for their children as possible, many times they are willing to fight tooth and nail about it. But, for what, exactly, are they fighting? Georgia residents may have heard the terms 'sole' and 'joint' custody before, perhaps due to the many well-publicized celebrity splits. But, what do the terms mean?

Due to the usage of the words, our readers might be forgiven for thinking that the difference is in where the child will be living. Of course, that may be one effect, but there can be much more involved. The major concept behind having legal 'custody' of a child is that of who will be making major decisions about the child's life. In a joint custody situation, both parents will need to work together to decide on issues like schooling, medical care, trips and other important issues and events. This is true even if the court awards primary 'residential custody' to one parent. Even if a child is living with one parent most of the time, if joint legal custody was granted the other parent will have a say in exercising legal rights. This kind of custody is most common, because Georgia policy is that a child benefits from having both parents involved.

But, in some circumstances a court will order sole legal custody. Again, while this likely means the child will be living primarily with one parent, the other parent may still have visitation rights. The major difference is that the parent without legal custody will not be empowered, in most cases, to collaborate in making major decisions about the child's life.

While in the heat of a tough divorce, it may seem like a good idea to try to get complete control of your child. But, in many cases it is in the child's best interests for parents to work together for the child's common good. Because every situation is different, anyone with questions regarding child custody or visitation may want to get more information about their unique circumstances.

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