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Types of Child Custody

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What Custody Options Are Available upon Divorce or Separation?

The following are the various types of custody available to parents upon divorce or separation depending on the state in which you live and the particular situation the child is in: 

  • Legal Custody
  • Physical Custody
  • Sole Custody
  • Joint Custody
  • Birds Nest Custody

Types of Child Custody 

  • Legal Custody
    • How it works – This type of custody gives one the right and obligation to make decision about the child’s upbringing. It allows one to make decisions about a child’s schooling, healthcare, and religious upbringing. Many states allow joint legal custody of a child.
    • Advantages – The most common type of custody available. Allows both parents to make decisions about child upbringing.
    • Disadvantages – Conflicts can and often do crop up between the upbringing philosophies of the parents. This can lead to bad environment for a child. Should one parent attempt to keep their child away from another parent who also has legal custody, the second parent can have a judge order the first parent into court. This can be quite expensive.
  • Physical Custody
    • How it works – This type of custody is the right to have a child physically live with you.  Some states recognize joint physical custody where a child lives with each parent equal amounts of time.
    • Advantages – Allows each parent to spend a maximum amount of time with their child. 
    • Disadvantages – Parents must live close to one another for this arrangement to work. Also, parents must have a workable and amicable relationship to avoid conflict for the children.
  • Sole Custody
    • How it works – Only the one “custodial” parent has custody. The other parent is typically permitted only visitation rights. Modernly courts are moving away from this arrangement unless the child is in danger in one parent’s household. Some courts grant generous visitation rights.
    • Advantages – Arrangement is usually least disruptive of child’s life .
    • Disadvantages – Very limited connection of one of the parents to their children. Often leads to heightened animosity between parents.
  • Joint Custody
    • How it works – This type of custody occurs when parents agree or a court orders them to agree to share decision-making responsibilities. Typically, the parents will agree to synchronize their schedules to make the arrangement work, or a court will order them to.    Joint custody may be joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both.
    • Advantages - Assures children continuing contact and involvement with both parents, and alleviates some of the burdens of parenting for each parent.
    • Disadvantages - Children must be shuttled around, parental non-cooperation can have seriously devastating effects on children, and maintaining two homes for the children can be expensive.
  • Birds Nest Custody
    • How it works - Children remain in the family home and the parents take turns moving in and out.
    • Advantages – Not disruptive for the children. Decision-making is still a problem.
    • Disadvantages – Expensive and often disruptive for parents. Doesn’t really work unless parents have other places to live in off days.

Should I Contact a Lawyer Regarding my Custody Issues?

Courts are often involved in choosing the right custody arrangements for your child.  It will be vital if you have concerns about who will make decisions for you child that you get an attorney to help persuade the court what the right arrangement is. A good family law attorney will help you do this.  

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 07-16-2014 08:06 AM PDT

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