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What is the Most Common Child Custody Arrangement?

What is the Most Common Child Custody Arrangement?

Child custody in Indiana can take several forms. These include legal custody, sole custody, and joint or shared custody. Which child custody arrangement is most common? More importantly, how does an Indiana judge determine which child custody arrangement is appropriate? For starters, judges follow a mandate to order child custody arrangements that serve the best interests of the child. They work from a set of child custody guidelines that include parenting and visitation time standards. With that said, judges consider many factors when determining the best child custody arrangements from one family to another.

Legal Custody

“Legal custody” designates which parent is authorized to make important life decisions for the child. These might include health and medical care, schooling, childcare, and religious decisions, among others. Legal custody can be granted to an individual parent (as sole custody) or to both parents (in arrangements for shared custody or joint custody of the child). It is also possible for one parent to be granted full legal custody, with the rights and responsibilities to make the major decisions regarding the child’s welfare and upbringing, but still have a joint “physical” custody arrangement in which the other parent is also responsible for the physical care of the child a significant part of the time.

Sole Custody

When a judge decrees “sole or full legal custody,” this designates that only one parent has the right and responsibility to make the important decisions for the child. Although the non-custodial parent may, in many cases, be allowed to offer input into these matters, the sole custodial parent has the final say.

Sole custody normally signifies a sole or primary physical living arrangement. In a sole physical custody arrangement, the child resides with one parent full-time, although the other parent may still have visitation rights. When primary physical custody is ordered, the child lives with one parent most of the time. The amount of time the child spends with each parent in a primary physical custody living arrangement can vary, with specific arrangements decided by the court.

Joint Custody

The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines are “based on the premise that it is usually in a child's best interest to have frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with each parent.” This means it is normally in the child’s best interest to be allowed to spend time with each parent. (Of course, specific family situations may lead judges to deviate from this presumption.)

In a common joint custody arrangement, both parents share legal custody, with the mutual right and responsibility to make important decisions regarding the child’s care and upbringing. However, joint custody – legal or physical – does not necessarily mean each parent spends the same amount of time rearing the child. Even in a shared or joint custody situation, the child could still reside with one parent most of the time, with visitation guidelines setting reasonable arrangements for all parties.

In certain contested custody cases, the judge may appoint a lawyer specifically to represent the child’s interests. Most of the time, however, judges will encourage parents to work together and accept joint or shared custody if circumstances allow.

Key Takeaways:

What is the most common child custody arrangement? Shared custody or joint custody of the child is preferred when possible, but the better question is this: What child custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child? Indiana judges endeavor to answer this question with a fair and equitable custody ruling every day. With this understanding, here are some key points to remember regarding child custody in Indiana:

  • Indiana child custody and parenting time guidelines operate from the imperative of what is best for the child
  • The legal foundation for deciding custody and visitation in Indiana stems from a set of standard rules and guidelines that attempt to serve the common interests of most families
  • Judges consider many factors – from basic needs provision to housing to schooling to childcare and more – when determining the proper child custody arrangement
  • Custody orders typically include legal custody, sole custody, sole or primary physical custody, and joint custody arrangements
  • Child custody rulings typically include visitation rights (i.e., “parenting time” in Indiana) for the non-custodial parent
  • Judges will normally encourage parents to cooperate and accept joint or shared custody if circumstances allow

At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., we are child custody lawyers with decades of collective experience successfully advocating fair and equitable child custody for our clients. To learn more about shared custody or other productive forms of child custody in Indiana, contact us today at (317) 972-8000.

This blog post provides general educational material about the most common forms of child custody in Indiana. Being an educated legal consumer can help you make the most of the legal experience in meeting your legal objectives. This information is presented by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who practice throughout the State of Indiana. It is not a solicitation, nor is it intended to provide specific legal advice. It is an advertisement. Information contained herein is subject to change.


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Dixon & Moseley, P.C., is a law firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. We serve clients in six core practice areas: family lawappellate practicefirearms lawgeneral practicepersonal injury and criminal law.

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Based in Indianapolis and founded in 1995, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. is a niche law firm focused on successfully dealing with the complexities of divorce, high-conflict child custody and family law. Known for their ability to solve extremely complex situations with high quality work and responsiveness, Dixon & Moseley, P.C. will guide you every step of the way. The family law attorneys at Dixon & Moseley, P.C. will help you precisely identify your objectives and the means to reach your desired result. Life is uncertain. Be certain of your counsel. Indianapolis Divorce Attorneys, Dixon & Moseley, P.C.

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