Types of Child Custody

Legal Custody and Physical Custody

When a divorcing couple has children, they must make decisions regarding child custody. The two main types of custody are legal custody and physical custody. The parent who has legal custody of the child oversees the major choices for the child, including education, medical needs and other important issues. The parent who has physical custody of the child oversees the daily life of the child and is the primary caregiver. Sometimes one parent is both the legal and the physical custodian of the child. Often the two parents share.

Other Types of Child Custody Available

When a parent has full custody over the child, it is also called sole custody. That parent has complete authority in making decision for the child. The non-custodial parent may be involved according to visitation guidelines. When both parents are given the right to be involved in the child's legal decisions, this is called joint legal custody. Problems may arise if the parents cannot agree on a substantial issue. If that happens, they must bring the issue to court and let a judge decide. In joint physical custody, both parents are granted equal rights concerning spending time with – and taking care of – the child. Since the parents are allotted equal time, they may decide how they wish to split it up.

Parents may also opt for combinations of custody, in which they may choose how to split up their responsibilities. Often times, one parent receives joint legal custody and the other parent receives sole physical custody. Another combination is joint physical custody for one parent and sole legal for the other. Although it is rare, parents may also choose joint legal custody and joint physical custody. This combination can be problematic if the parents have difficulty making decisions together.

It is important to note that the term "temporary custody" is misleading. A court may rule that one parent has temporary custody while other issues are being ironed out. However, after the children have acclimated to the living situation with that one parent, they are often more inclined to stay there than to pick up and move again. If parents allow temporary custody, they should be well aware that those orders are more than likely going to be the long-term arrangement.

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