Understanding the 4 Different Types of Child Custody

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Understanding the 4 Different Types of Child Custody


When people are involved in a child custody case, the terminology used can get confusing rather quickly. Most people have some idea of what custody is, but they may not know the differences between physical and legal custody, or even how joint custody works. We are going to help define the four different types of child custody to make them easier to understand and to help you figure out which is best for your specific situation.

Physical Child Custody

Physical custody is perhaps the most widely understood of the four types of custody. If a court decides physical custody is granted to a parent, then that parent has the right to have that child live with them. Even within the realm of physical custody, there are joint physical custody and sole physical custody. Joint physical custody is usually awarded when both parents live relatively close to one another. Sole physical custody occurs when the parents live far apart, which may cause a psychological and emotional strain on the child. However, sole physical custody sometimes comes with limited visitation or custody rights, where the child spends a few hours at a time with the other parent.

Sole Custody

Sole custody is typically awarded to one parent when the other is deemed unfit to care for a child. An unfit parent, in the eyes of the court, is one who may have a criminal or abusive history, financial hardships, or a track record of abusing drugs or alcohol. This can be expanded if one parent is currently living with another partner who is similarly deemed unfit to care for or be in the presence of the child.

Joint Custody

Joint custody occurs when the parents do not live together, but still share in the responsibilities and decisions about the child and housing arrangements. Parents who share joint custody must produce a parenting agreement that needs to be reviewed and ratified by the judge involved in the case. Arrangements for joint custody take into account the work schedules of both parents, the child’s school schedule, as well as any other needs and requirements. It is not unusual for joint custody to entail arrangements where the child spends the majority of the time with one parent while splitting weekends and holidays with the other. Occasionally, joint custody will allow the child to remain in the family home while the parents move in or out according to the terms of the agreement. This is especially important when young children are involved because they emotionally identify with the family home.

Legal Child Custody

Legal custody can apply to both sole and joint custody arrangements. Legal custody gives one parent the authority to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, including education and health. Legal custody grants the parent the right to decide where the child will go to school, which religion the child will practice, and the types of medical treatment they will receive. If both parents are awarded joint legal custody, and one parent tries to impede the decisions of the other or exclude one parent from the decision-making process, then a judge can be brought into the situation to enforce the joint custody order. If the issues are ongoing, then one parent may eventually be granted sole legal custody of the child.

In all cases of custody, both parents should be looking out for the well-being and best interests of the child, and not view them as a bargaining chip to hurt or spite anyone. Custody is an important part of any family divorce procedure and must be carried out carefully and thoughtfully.

At Goodwyn Law Firm, LLC we offer effective legal representation in all custody disputes. Our extensive experience in negotiation, mediation, and litigation of custody disputes, combined with our strong advocacy of parental rights, gives us the ability to handle cases that arise during or after a divorce, or even in a paternity proceeding.

Call Us Today for a Free Consultation 803-521-4517.

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