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Understanding the different types of child custody

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2024 | Family Law |

Child custody is a crucial aspect of divorce and separation, as it determines the living arrangements and care of the children involved.

Understanding the different types of child custody can help parents make informed decisions that best suit their children’s needs.


Legal custody is the right to make important decisions about a child’s life, including education, health care and religious upbringing. The court can award it to one parent or both. When parents share joint legal custody, they must collaborate and agree on major decisions affecting their child’s welfare. Sole legal custody allows one parent to make these decisions independently.


Physical custody determines where the child will live and which parent will be responsible for day-to-day care. Similar to legal, physical custody can be sole or joint. Sole physical custody means the child resides primarily with one parent while the other may have visitation rights. On the other hand, joint physical custody involves the child spending significant time living with both parents. This arrangement ensures the child maintains a strong relationship with both parents.


Joint custody combines both joint legal and joint physical custody. In this arrangement, parents share decision-making responsibilities, and the child spends substantial time with each parent. This type requires effective communication and cooperation between parents to ensure consistency and stability for the child.


Sole custody grants one parent exclusive rights to both legal and physical custody. The parent with sole custody makes all major decisions about the child’s life, and the child lives primarily with that parent. The other parent may have visitation rights but needs to have the authority to make significant decisions.


Split custody is less common and usually applies to families with multiple children. In this arrangement, each parent has sole custody of one or more children. For example, one child may live with the mother while another lives with the father. Courts generally avoid split custody as it separates siblings, which can be emotionally challenging for the children.

Each family situation is unique, so it is important to consider the child’s best interests when determining the most suitable custody arrangement. By doing so, parents can help ensure a stable and supportive environment for their children during and after the separation.