What Are the Different Types of Child Custody That Exist Today?

When parents separate or divorce, one of the most difficult decisions they have to make is who gets custody of the children.

It sounds simple in theory, but the practicalities can be rife with tension and complexities. For example, is there a certain amount of time allotted for each parent and their children? Who will be responsible for making the most significant choices in the lives of the kids?

If you’re unfamiliar with the different types of child custody, we’ve got you covered. Keep on reading for our full breakdown of how child custody works.

Types of Child Custody 101: Understanding Legal Custody

There are two main types of child custody, one is legal and the other is physical custody.

Legal custody is the right that parents have to make choices regarding the raising of their children. For instance, which school they’ll attend. And, whether or not they’ll have access to educational support services like tutoring.

There’s also deciding on their education, religious practice, and even after-school activities. Furthermore, they’ll have the right to make decisions on health care including immunizations and mental health treatment. 

Sole Legal Custody 

When one parent has sole legal custody of their children, that person is legally entitled to make all decisions pertaining to the children without having to get the other parent’s permission.

It’s up to the judge to determine whether you and your children are better off with joint legal custody or sole legal custody. In a situation like this, one parent may not care for the children or be interested in their lives.

Untreated drug misuse or serious mental illness renders one parent unsuitable to make sound choices for the children. Or, the level of animosity and conflict between the parents is so high that joint legal custody would be impossible.

When parents disagree about vaccines, joint legal custody may lead to painful post-divorce fights.

Joint Legal Custody 

Shared decision-making power over a child’s life is possible when divorced parents have shared legal custody. Joint legal custody after a divorce is the preferred or default arrangement in the majority of states.

Consider most of the day-to-day choices, such as approving emergency medical treatment or scheduling regular doctor’s visits. These are set by the main caregiver when one parent is the primary caretaker of the children.

Before or during the divorce process, you and your partner may draw up a parenting agreement. One that specifies how you will communicate and include each other in these choices, as well as how you will deal with future differences.

But, what should you do in the event that you and your spouse cannot agree on a course of treatment? You’ll need to insert language stating that you will heed the doctor’s advice in such a situation.

Sadly, shared legal custody may lead to painful post-divorce fights. Especially, when parents disagree on items such as immunizations or football participation.

You might be sued by your ex if you have shared legal custody but exclude your ex from the decision-making process. The same applies if you make unilateral choices despite their objections.

As a result of the stress and hatred that these legal battles may bring, they’ll undoubtedly cost you a lot of money. A court may even decide to give your ex exclusive legal custody and to re-arrange physical custody. And, that would be the worst-case situation.

This is where you’ll want to explore your options with legal services like AZ child support

Physical Custody

The right of parents to live with and care for their children on a daily basis is known as physical custody.

As with other custody judgments, courts must take into account the best interests of the children. It’s critical when making a decision on physical custody or parenting time.

Sole Physical Custody 

To have full-time physical and legal custody of your children, you must have exclusive legal custody of them. After a divorce, it was common practice to give one parent exclusive physical custody of their child.

Mothers and dads enjoyed visiting rights in the past, but this is no longer the case now. But, in most divorce cases, a court will still generally grant physical custody to one of the parents. It’s the “custodial parent” when it’s in their children’s best interest.

  • One has moved so far away that it would be hazardous for the children to be forced to often go back and forth between them and their old home;
  • One is unable to reside with the children due to a history of drug misuse, history of child maltreatment, or significant mental illness;
  • can’t offer a safe home for the children, or they’re incarcerated

Most courts will grant the noncustodial parent a set amount of visiting time when awarded exclusive physical custody. Even if the noncustodial parent is a risk to the children, the court may approve contact with restrictions. These can be mandating monitored visitation or drug testing.

Joint Physical Custody 

Having children spend substantial time with both of their parents has been more popular over the last two or three decades. It’s the trend toward joint or shared physical custody.

Consistent evidence has convinced judges that shared parenting arrangements benefit children following divorce. It’s better for children to have shared physical custody of their parents and can live near enough to each other to retain some sense of normalcy.

It’s not always a 50-50 split when a couple shares physical custody. Families with more than one kid often alternate weekends. They also exchange school breaks between staying with one parent and visiting the other. It is still referred to as “custodial” and “noncustodial” if one parent has primary physical custody while the other has joint custody.

In circumstances when physical custody is divided 50/50, children may spend four nights a week with one parent and three nights with the other. Or, they may even rotate weeks, months, or longer periods between parents.

Joint custody, often known as “bird’s nest custody” or “nesting,” allows children to live with both parents. The parents alternate moving in and out of the household.

Plans for Co-Parenting

A parenting plan or schedule that takes into account the children’s needs. It also considers the parents’ work schedules and the parents’ living circumstances. All of these are often used when parents have joint custody.

In cases when parents cannot agree on a timetable for child custody, a court may require them to attend mediation. In fact, in certain jurisdictions, mediation is mandatory in all custody situations. Judges enforce settlements when mediation doesn’t work.

Parenting plans may also contain additional elements, such as the amount of time each parent spends with their children.

  • how to set up parent-child exchanges (drop-offs and pick-ups);
  • how the parents are going to handle requests for timetable adjustments;
  • paying for transportation costs when traveling to and from one other’s homes

The content of parenting plans may be mandated by state law or by a judge’s order.

Child Custody Lawsuit: Types of Visitation Orders

Visitation orders may be classified into a number of categories.

Parental visitation, also referred to as “time-sharing,” is a method through which parents divide time with their children after a divorce. Visitation is granted to a parent who spends less than half of the time with the children.

The best interests of the children, the circumstances of the parents, and other considerations all play a role in determining the specifics of a visitation arrangement. Visitation may take the following forms.

Visitation on a Set Schedule

To avoid misunderstandings and arguments, parents and courts generally devise a visitation schedule. One that specifies the days and hours when the children will be with each parent.

Holidays, special events, and vacations may all be factors in determining visitation plans.

Reasonable Visitation

No specific timetable of when the children will be with each parent is required in a fair visitation arrangement.

Typically, these instructions are left open-ended so that the parents may come to their own agreement. If the parents get along well, are adaptable, and have open lines of communication, this sort of visiting arrangement may succeed.

It is possible that an open timetable might lead to conflict between parents. And, harm their children if there are arguments or misunderstandings.

Supervised Visitation

You, another adult, or a professional agency may oversee visits between the children and the other parent. It’s the set protocol where this is necessary for their safety and well-being.

Parents and children who have not seen each other for some time might benefit from the usage of monitored visitation. It allows them to get to know one other more slowly.

No Visitation

When even with adult supervision, allowing children to meet with their parents would be hazardous to their physical or emotional well-being, this is a viable alternative.

These situations necessitate that no contact be made between the parent and the children.

Child Custody: Explained

It’s difficult to resolve disputes over child custody or visitation when parents can’t come to an agreement. To further understand how the law impacts you and your rights, you should consult with a lawyer.

For now, we hope that our guide has shed some light on the different types of child custody. Next step, you’ll want to check out our legal section for more information and tips on how to navigate similar situations.


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