In my experience, “Joint Custody" and “Sole Custody" are probably two of the most misused and misunderstood terms in family law cases. People often throw these terms around without really understanding what they mean. The most common misconception is that if you are awarded sole custody of your children, the other parent will never see them again. People often come to my office requesting “sole custody" when their primary goal is to take their children away from the other parent completely. Likewise, people often believe that joint custody means that the children will live with one parent 50% of the time, and with the other parent 50% of the time. In both cases, the opposite is true. The legal term for joint custody is Joint Managing Conservatorship (JMC). In a JMC, both parents are able to make decisions regarding issues such as education, religious upbringing, medical care, etc. Although both parents share in the decision making, one parent will typically be named as the “Primary" JMC. The primary JMC is the parent who gets to decide where the child lives. In addition to having the right to determine the residence of the child, the primary JMC is also entitled to collect child support from the other parent. Unlike JMC, in a Sole Managing Conservatorship (SMC), one parent is appointed to make all the major decisions regarding the child's upbringing, including where the child will live. Naming one parent as the SMC is usually done when the court finds that joint custody is not in the best interests of the child. In this situation, the non-custodial parent will be allowed the same visitation as in joint custody; however, he or she will not be able to participate in the decision making process. *It’s important to note that under certain circumstances, the Court will name one parent SMC and restrict the other parent’s access to the child all together.
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