Types of Child Custody: What You Need to Know

Every year, over 600,000 people end their relationship with a legal divorce. Inevitably, this leads parents to ask one important question: who gets child custody?

Popular media has perpetuated a lot of myths about the types of child custody. We picture the kids living with their mother, only to see their father on weekends as the default. However, primary custody and visitation rights are much more complicated than that–especially when parents remarry.

If you and your former partner have divorced, it’s important to understand how this parenting arrangement works going forward. Read on for more details on child custody.

Types of Child Custody

Generally speaking, there are two types of custody: physical and legal custody.

Physical custody is about with whom the child will be spending their time. A parent with physical custody is responsible for caring for the child as they would normally–housing them, feeding them, etc.

Legal custody, however, refers to the legal authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf. This could be deciding which school they attend or which medical treatment they receive. A physical custodian can take them to school but can’t sign them up for a new charter school, for example.

Custody Arrangements

Naturally, the amount of physical or legal custody that a parent has varies. It’s ultimately the court’s decision and depends on what they deem best for the child.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is pretty self-explanatory: both parents are responsible for a more or less equal portion of childcare. In fact, it’s quite common for a court to make this not just joint physical custody but joint legal custody. That means even post-divorce, a former couple must exhibit parental cooperation in making decisions for their children.

Believe it or not, joint custody is on the rise.

Primary Custody (and Potential for Visitation Rights)

Sometimes the court determines that it’s best for a child to live with one parent but still have access to the other. If this is the case, the other parent usually gets visitation rights. This is the custody situation we typically envision: the kids live with Mom and visit Dad on the weekends.

That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the parent with primary custody gets full legal custody, too. There are still cases where parents have joint custody–despite the kids living primarily with one parent.

Sole Custody

Sole custody means a single parent gets complete or near complete legal and physical custody. If the other parent has access, it is limited. Rather than regular, scheduled visits, this non-custodian may get to see their child on holidays or other rare occasions.

This tends to be the case when there have been prior instances of neglect or abuse. It’s highly unlikely in this situation that the courts would award any legal custody to a non-custodial parent.

Work Out Child Custody with Miller Zeiderman

Child custody is the number one concern for people who have filed for divorce. The court will determine how much physical and legal custody each parent gets. In practice, this translates into joint custody or primary custody–with the option for visitation rights.

Miller Zeiderman specializes in family law and divorce. Contact us for a consultation and then visit one of our offices.