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Separation and Divorce: Child Custody, Access, and Parenting Plans

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What are the different types of custody?

Joint custody

Joint custody means that both parents must agree on major decisions that affect their child. One parent cannot decide these things without the agreement of the other. If they disagree, they must find a way to resolve it.

Courts do not like to order joint custody if parents are unable to make these decisions together. Joint custody works best when parents share similar ideas about how to raise their child. It takes a lot of co-operation.

Sometimes parents with joint custody divide up the decision-making. For example, one parent may make medical decisions, while the other makes educational decisions.

Sole custody

If one parent has sole custody, this means he or she can make all of the important decisions about the child, even if the other parent disagrees. Sometimes the parent with sole custody must talk to the other parent before making the decision.

Some people assume that if a parent with sole custody dies, the other parent gets custody. This is not always true. A parent with sole custody can choose who will have custody of their child for the first 90 days after their own death. The person they choose, or anyone else, can apply to court to have custody after that. For more information see Does child support affect a parent's right to access? and Can someone other than the parents get custody and access?.

When one parent has sole custody, the other parent usually has "access".