5 Types of Child Custody Cases You Need to Understand to Lessen Stress

in #divorce4 years ago (edited)

Divorce is a difficult time, and legally, can be quite complicated. However, the situation can become even more confusing if children are involved. Custody battles often become overwhelming not only for both the mother and the father, but also for the extended family, and most importantly, the children themselves.  Understanding the different types of child custody is the first step towards lessening the stress and working out a situation that is both fair and effective for everyone involved. The five types of child custody cases are legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, joint legal custody, and joint physical custody.  

Legal Custody

When a parent has legal custody, it means that they are responsible for making all arrangements and choices about the child’s upbringing, including schooling, medical care, and day-to-day decisions. In many states, parents will be awarded joint legal custody, which means both parents must come to agreement about raising the child. In some cases, one parent may feel the other is not capable of such an arrangement. This may happen in cases of neglect or abuse, or if one parent has mental, physical, or emotional issues which prevent him or her from properly parenting. In those cases, sole legal custody may be sought. 

Physical Custody 

Physical custody refers to where the child resides permanently. This does not relate to visitation rights, but has to do with where the child lives. The courts could award joint legal custody over the child, but sole physical custody to just one parent. This is particularly likely if one parent is unemployed or homeless at the time of the hearing.  When the child lives primarily with one parent, that parent is referred to as the custodial parent. The other parent, or noncustodial parent, will most likely be awarded ample visitation time with his or her child.  Sometimes parents choose joint legal custody along with sole physical custody in order to provide what they feel is a more stable home life.  

Sole Custody 

When one parent has both physical and legal custody of a child, it is called “sole custody.” The other parent may still have visitation time with the child; however, he or she cannot make any decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and must speak with the custodial parent and get permission about any decisions affecting the child.  In most states, courts appear to be moving away from sole custody arrangements in order to actively engage both parents in the life of their child. However, if one parent is deemed unfit, such as in cases with proof of alcohol or drug dependency or a recent history of abuse, the court will consider sole custody. Even in those cases, though, the noncustodial parent will most likely be awarded visitation rights, although they may be supervised.  It is not advisable to seek sole custody unless you truly feel that your spouse causes or can cause harm to your children. Simply because you don’t like him or her is not a valid reason to keep the children from their parent.  

Joint Legal Custody

This situation means that both parents share decision-making responsibilities for their child. The parents must agree on all major choices regarding the child’s life, such as schooling, religion, and other major concerns.  If the parents are unable to agree about a situation, the court can step in to resolve the dispute. 

Joint Physical Custody

When parents share joint physical custody, the child splits his or her time equally between both parents’ houses. Both parents must provide for sleeping arrangements, clothing, food, and other comforts for their child. In most cases of joint physical custody, the parents also share legal custody, although it is not a requirement. 


For a child, divorce means the splitting up of the family, but it does not need to mean losing a parent. Both parents should make every effort to do what is in the best interest of the child, even if that means sharing parenting time with their ex-spouse.