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Legal and physical custody more likely to be shared

When Ohio parents of young children get divorced, they may share both legal and physical custody. A parent with legal custody has the right to make decisions about such issues as the child's religion and medical care. The child lives with the parent who has physical custody. Increasingly, family law courts are starting from a presumption of joint legal custody and are much more open to shared physical custody.

This has not always been the case. One Wisconsin study found that in 80 percent of custody cases in the state in 1980, mothers were awarded sole physical custody. That percentage was just 42 percent by 2008. In 1980, shared custody in which the child spent equal time with both parents was only awarded in 5 percent of divorces. It was 27 percent in 2008. Shared custody in which the child spent more time with one parent than the other increased to 18 percent from 3 percent. Shared physical custody with equal time can present some problems with working parents in getting the child back and forth on weekdays, so this is not always a practical arrangement.

Another change is a rise in the number of children born out of wedlock and unmarried fathers seeking access to their children. These fathers do not seek custody as often as divorced fathers, but when they do, the court system treats them the same.

Reaching an agreement on parenting time can be challenging. Parents who are negotiating an agreement should use the same criteria a court would, that of the best interests of the child. Unless the child is in danger with one parent, the legal system takes the position that the child should have the opportunity to build a relationship with both parents. A parent who does not have physical custody may still have a generous visitation schedule.

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