If you are a parent beginning the divorce process, it may only be a matter of time before you and your spouse discuss child custody. To be prepared for this conversation, it may be helpful to understand the different types of child custody that are possible.
Physical and legal custody
Child custody is generally divided into two types: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the physical care and supervision of your child. Generally, your child will live with the parent who has physical custody.
Legal custody refers to the authority to make decisions about your child’s upbringing. This includes decisions about the school your child attends, the church your child attends and the non-emergency medical care your child receives.
Sole or joint
Physical and legal custody can each be sole or joint. This means that one or both parents could be awarded each type of custody.
Courts often award joint physical and legal custody because it is often in the child’s best interest to maintain a close relationship with both parents. In this situation, the child usually spends time living at both parent’s houses, although the child may not always spend an equal amount of time at each house. In this situation, parents must work together to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing.
Sometimes sole physical custody is determined to be best for the child. In this arrangement, the child lives with one parent. This could be awarded if one parent is determined to be unfit or if the parents do not live close enough to each other for joint physical custody to work well. In this arrangement, legal custody can be either sole or joint, depending on what is appropriate for the situation.
When sole physical custody is awarded, the parent who does not have physical custody may be awarded parenting time, which is sometimes called visitation. This could be supervised or unsupervised. The purpose of parenting time is to allow the noncustodial parent and the child to be able to continue having a meaningful relationship.
Parents are often able to control more details of a custody arrangement when they work together to form a mutually agreeable plan. However, if you and your spouse are unable to agree on an arrangement in the best interest of your child, a court may have to award custody as it sees fit. Regardless of how child custody is determined, an understanding of your options can help you advocate for the arrangement that best suits your child’s needs.