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When both parents share custody of a child after a divorce it is called joint custody. Joint custody may be either legal or physical custody. Physical custody, designates where the child will actually live, whereas legal custody gives the custodial person(s) the right to make decisions for the child's welfare. Child custody can be decided by a local court in a divorce or if a child, relative, close friend or state agency questions whether one or both parents is unfit, absent, dead, in prison or dangerous to the child's well-being. In such cases custody can be awarded to a grandparent or other relative, a foster parent or an orphanage or other organization or institution.
The basic consideration on custody matters is supposed to be the best interests of the child or children. In most cases the non-custodial parent is given visitation rights, which may include weekends, parts of vacations and other occasions. The custody order may be modifed if circumstances warrant.
Laws on shared custody vary by state. most states have adopted laws to encourage the involvement of both parents. These laws use differing language in defining the time alloted to each parent, such as "frequent and continuing contact" or "equal time". The following are examples of various states' statutes governing shared custody:
"(1) The court may award either joint physical custody or joint legal custody or bothas between the parents or parties as the court determines is for the bestinterests of the minor child or children. If the court declines to enter an order awarding joint custody, the court shall state in its decision the reasons for denial of an award of joint custody. Except as provided in subsection (5), of this section, absent a preponderance of the evidence to the contrary, there shall be a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of a minor child or children. There shall be a presumption that joint custody is not in the best interests of a minor child if one (1) of the parents is found by the court to be a habitual perpetrator of domestic violence..."