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Is Parenting Time the Same as Custody?

Parenting Time vs. “Custody” 

In a family law courtroom, you want to speak the same language as the judge and the lawyers. Speaking the same language doesn’t mean English or Spanish or French.  Instead, it means using the terms defined in your state’s statutes. The term “custody” is one of the biggest chances for people to talk right past each other. 

If you think about it, “custody” is a pretty ugly word. It brings to mind images of children in handcuffs, being led around by a possessive parent, like a jail warden. This term is as old as dirt, and experts in these cases are quickly getting rid of it, and its implication of possession and control of children. In its place courts are focusing on what’s in the best interest of the children. 

How Do I Get Custody?

We can tell someone who is at the beginning of the divorce process when they come into our office, and say, “I wanna get full custody.” There’re so many misconceptions contained in this statement it’s easy to conclude no one has helped them out yet. 

First, “custody” is really two different child-centered ideas – parenting time and decision-making. A potential client’s use of the word “custody” may be referring to one, or both of these responsibilities.  Either way, it’s best to use the language of the experts so we all understand what the objective is.  

Rights vs. Responsibilities

Take note that we refer to parenting time and decision-making as “responsibilities”, not rights. It’s an important distinction. While the law certainly gives parents “rights” involving their children, what’s at issue in a “custody” determination is viewed from the perspective of the best interests of the child, not the rights of the parents. So, we look at how positively this parent can contribute to the wellbeing of the child.  Also, we see how seriously they’ll take the responsibilities associated with the school, medical care, socialization, and relationship with the other parent. 

Second, the statement “I want full custody,” implies an ownership or control that really isn’t recognized in the law. When courts are evaluating parenting time schedules, and decision-making responsibility, they’re considering what’s in the best interests of the children.  They’re not talking about who is in possession of the kids. 

Most of the time, people mean “parenting time” when they say “custody”.  Here are several things to keep in mind when discussing dividing parenting time responsibilities: 

  •   Best interests of the children 
  •   The children’s schedules 
  •   Maintaining the children’s communities 
  •   Minimizing the impact of changing family dynamics 
  •   Proximity to schools 
  •   History of involvement in the children’s school activities, and healthcare 

It’s important to remember courts appreciate parents who’ve done their homework on how the law works. 

Posted July 10, 2021

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