Types of Child Custody
Child custody in a divorce comes in several different types and it is important to understand how they differ before you enter into a custody settlement you might regret for many years. As most divorce attorneys will tell you, child custody has two main components, the first is legal custody which means a parent has the right to make decisions for a child, usually concerning such things as medical decisions, educational decisions, and living arrangements. The second main type of child custody is physical custody where a parent has actual physical contact in the home where the child lives, eats, and sleeps.
Beyond the right to make decisions for a child and providing a home for a child, the categories of custody can be broken down into components defining what kind of actual custody is in effect. Sole custody or full custody is where one parent has both legal and physical custody and the remaining spouse has visitation rights only. A parent with sole custody makes all decisions for the child. In most cases, the spouse with visitation only cannot make decisions for the child’s at all.
Joint legal custody is a little more complicated in that both parents can make decisions concerning educational, medical, and other issues regardless of where the child actually lives. Parents with joint legal custody who are in disagreement and have a dispute over a major issue must defer to the court to make the decisions for the child. Since the Courts usually take the side of the parent with primary physical custody, joint custody is not really equal in every sense.
The court will sometimes order joint physical custody where one or both parents are named primary custodians so that the amount of time spent with a child can be divided equally between both. To further complicate the matter, the court can order combinations of different types of custody to be applied together. The result is often situations where one parent might share joint legal custody, but have sole physical custody in the home. Or, share joint physical custody, yet have the sole legal custody to make all the decisions. If both parents are in complete agreement the court can also order them to share joint legal custody as well as joint physical custody.