What are the different type of custody arrangements?

Modified on 26 Sep 2016 at 2:50 pm

Custody is protective care or guardianship of a minor child. In many states, it can be broken down into two main categories:

  • Physical Custody: When a parent is granted physical custody of a child, the adult has the right to have the child live in his or her home.

  • Sole Physical Custody is in place when the child lives with one parent (custodial parent). The other parent (noncustodial parent) may have some custody rights or visitation privileges, but these are typically very limited. For example, a child may live with his mother but is able to visit his father for a few hours every month, or it may require supervised visits if there is concern for the safety of the children while they visit the noncustodial parent.

Most courts want both parents to remain active in the child’s life. Sole Physical Custody may be ordered if the parents do not live close to one another, or if one parent is deemed unfit to parent due to a substance dependency or charges of abuse or neglect.

  • Joint Physical Custody means the child is able to live with both parents, splitting significant periods of time between the two homes. Generally, this type of custody is granted if the parents live close to one another. In a Joint Physical Custody scenario, a child may spend weekdays with his father and weekends with his mother. Courts shy away from a perfect 50/50 split because it is usually considered too taxing on the children and courts prefer the children to have one primary home base while spending significant time at the home of the other spouse. This is the most common arrangement and preferred by most courts.

  • Each parent is able to have ongoing contact and involvement in the child’s live with Joint Physical Custody. However, the agreement may come with some grievances such as commuting times between the homes, providing the child’s necessities in two homes, and dealing with the other parent if he or she fails to follow the custody agreement.

  • Sole Legal Custody grants the decision-making authority to one parent. This arrangement, however, is not common in most states because the courts believe both parents have a shared responsibility to make child-rearing decisions.

  • Joint Legal Custody means each parent has an equal influence on the child’s upbringing. They must work together to make decisions and support the child’s needs. This type of arrangement typically fosters open communication between the splitting spouses which can benefit the child and lead to a more nurturing environment for him or her. On the flip side, one parent may seek a larger share of decision-making control and create tension with the other parent under Joint Physical Custody. These issues are usually spelled out in the Parenting Plan discussed above.

  • Legal Custody: This means a parent has the responsibility to make decisions about the child’s upbringing on everything from education to medical care.

At the end of the day, the final type of custody should be based on best interests of the child. A child should never be used as leverage against the other spouse.