Michigan family law issues can be rife with dispute. This is true during a divorce with property division, alimony, child support and child custody. Any aspect of a case related to children can have personal, financial and emotional ramifications. When going through a divorce, understanding the different kinds of child custody alternatives available can help with reaching an acceptable solution. As the case moves forward, the parents should have a grasp of the definitions of child custody under state law.

If one parent is given legal and physical custody of the child, it is the equivalent of sole custody. Legal custody is when the parent has the right to make decisions on behalf of the child. This includes medical care, education, religious instruction and more. Physical custody is the parent who is caring for the child. When parents are in a contentious situation and the judge is concerned that they will not meet in the middle for the good of the child, sole custody might be awarded. Barring the child being put in danger, the other parent will then receive visitation rights.

Joint custody can be beneficial if the parents can come to amicable agreements about the child and it serves the child’s interests. Cooperation is a fundamental aspect of a joint custody agreement. Parents can be awarded joint legal custody or joint physical custody. The former gives each parent equal authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf. It is important to note that the spending physical time with the child does not impact the requirement to share in the decision-making process.

If there is joint physical custody and not joint legal custody, it is different. When the child is with the custodial parent, that parent makes the decisions. During visits with the other parent – over a weekend, on a holiday, during the summer – that parent will make the critical decisions. There will be communication with the other parent during these times.

Child custody can be an emotional rollercoaster with both sides concerned about the influence they will have with the child and his or her upbringing. For couples who are amicable, this can be settled through negotiation. If it is acrimonious, however, there can be bumps in the road that make it complicated to reach an agreement and serve the child’s needs. Whether the case needs to go to court or there is room for discussion, having legal protection can be vital. Consulting with experienced professionals who understand family law and child custody may help.