Child custody and guardianship are legal terms which are sometimes used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child, such as the right of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the parent’s duty to care for the child.
Residence and contact issues typically arise in proceedings involving divorce (dissolution of marriage), annulment and other legal proceedings where children may be involved. In most jurisdictions the issue of which parent the child will reside with is determined in accordance with the best interests of the child standard.
Family law proceedings which involve issues of residence and contact often generate the most acrimonious disputes. While many parents cooperate when it comes to sharing their children, not all do. For those that engage in litigation, there seem to be few limits. Court filings quickly fill with mutual accusations by one parent against the other, including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, brain-washing, parental alienation syndrome, sabotage, and manipulation. It is these infrequent “super-heated” custody battles that make the news and sometimes distort the public’s perceptions as to the prevalence of such disputes and the adequacy of the court’s response.
In some states, courts and legal professionals are beginning to use the term parenting schedule instead of custody and visitation. The new terminology eliminates the distinction between custodial and noncustodial parents, and also attempts to build upon the so-called best interests of the children by crafting schedules that meet the developmental needs of the children. For example, younger children need shorter, more frequent time with parents, whereas older children and teenagers can tolerate and may demand less frequent shifts, but longer blocks of time with each parent.