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Navigating the different types of child custody arrangements

Divorcing couples with children, and unmarried couples who have a child together, are more than likely familiar with the term child custody which is frequently used by court personnel, lawyers and judges alike in the family law court system. However, what many parents may not know is that the umbrella term child custody encompasses several different types of custody arrangement which one or both parents may be granted.

The different types of child custody arrangement include:

  1. Physical custody - refers to a child custody arrangement wherein a parent is granted the right by a family court to have a child live with them. Physical custody can be sole or joint. In a sole physical custody arrangement, one parent has visitation rights while the child primarily lives with the other parent. In joint physical custody arrangements, the child resides with both parents for long periods of time. Joint physical custody arrangements are uncommon.

  1. Legal custody - refers to rights a parent has in making decisions pertaining to the child's religious upbringing, schooling, and healthcare decisions. Typically, joint legal custody is granted wherein both parents are involved in the decision making process of how their child will be raised. But in some cases sole legal custody may be awarded.
  1. Sole custody - arises in the context of physical and legal custody. For instance, if a court makes a determination that one of the parents is not fit to take care of the child due to drug or alcohol issues or even financial instability, then the other parent may be granted sole physical custody.
  1. Joint custody - also arises in the context of physical and legal custody. In joint physical and legal custody arrangements, both parents share responsibilities. In many cases, joint physical custody arrangements are not practical but many people tend to share joint legal custody.

Child custody arrangements are determined on a case-by-case basis. Judges consider various factors when making these decisions. In most cases, joint physical custody arrangements may be impractical and not in the best interest of the child. In other cases, the acrimony surrounding separation or divorce may make it impossible for parties to civilly communicate, making any joint arrangement, legal or physical, impossible. Anyone interested in learning more about child custody arrangement options may want to consult with a family law attorney.

Source: Findlaw, "The Various Types of Child Custody," accessed July 29, 2014

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