What is child custody?

Divorce can be an earth-shattering event for children, creating feelings of loss, confusion, fear, anger, and resentment. Several recent psychological studies indicate that children can experience these effects for years, and it can affect how children, once grown, approach their own marriages and childrearing.

In addition to the psychological effects, divorce can have economic effects on children. Children often suffer a change after a divorce, sometimes financially, almost always emotionally.

Divorce is common in the United States. A quoted statistic is that "almost half of all marriages end in divorce." That leaves a lot of children enduring the effects of divorce.

Child custody laws throughout the United States seek to provide some sense of order to the disruption of divorce and separation in efforts to smooth over this transition from a unified, nuclear family to a two-household family, with the spouses/parents living separate and apart.

One parent, generally termed the "custodial parent," will receive custody of the child(ren) from the court. The child(ren) will live for the most part with this custodial parent and visit with the "noncustodial parent" for short periods of time (hours or days). One exception to this rule is the "joint physical custody" arrangement.

Under joint physical custody, the time is divided more evenly or equitably (not always the same thing, so ask your attorney what may happen in your particular case). The child(ren) will spend significant amounts of time with each parent, often weeks at a time. Obviously, should the parents live in different states or towns - or sometimes even just school districts - a joint physical custody arrangement can be quite complicated for both the children and the parents.