Child custody includes who the child lives with and who has the right to make significant life decisions for children. For that reason, divorcing parents should be familiar with the different types of child custody arrangements and what they may mean for them.
Legal and physical custody
The distinction between legal custody and physical custody is important to understand. Legal custody refers to which parent will make important decisions for the child. Both parents may share legal custody or one parent may have legal custody over the child. Important decisions covered by legal custody can include those related to the child’s education, healthcare and religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to which parent has the child in their physical care. It can also be shared between the parents or one parent may have physical custody of the child.
Sole or joint custody
When one parent has sole legal custody of the child, they can make important decisions for the child without consulting the other parent. If the parents share legal custody, they will have to work together to make those decisions such as if the child will change schools or have a certain medical procedure. If they are unable to agree, the family law court may decide for them.
Sole physical custody means that the child lives with one parent and the other parent may enjoy visitation. If the parents share joint physical custody of the child, the child will share time between the parents and their respective homes. There are a variety of different options for joint physical custody that parents should be familiar with.
Best interests of the child
Child custody is based on what is in the best interests of the child. A child custody arrangement will include legal and physical custody and if it is shared or not. It may also include visitation, which is sometimes referred to as a parenting plan, if one parent has visitation of the child.