There are many facets to child custody cases, and the law differs from state to state, from married couples going through a divorce, to unwed single parents. Each case is different and takes special consideration. There are various types of child custody, each with their own upsides and downsides. Here are the four main types of child custody in family law, as explained by FindLaw:
Legal custody gives a parent the right to make long-term decisions about the raising of a child, and key aspects of the child’s welfare – including the child’s education, medical care, dental care, and religious instruction. In most child custody cases, legal custody is awarded to both parents (joint legal custody), unless it is shown that one parent is somehow unfit, or is incapable of making decisions about the child’s upbringing.
The parent who has been granted physical custody is the parent the child or children will live with. Most modern custody arrangements give physical custody to one parent (called the “custodial” parent) and grant visitation rights and shared “legal custody” to the non-custodial parent. Typically, visitation rights give the non-custodial parent exclusive time with the child every other weekend, alternating major holidays, and a number of weeks during summer vacations.
A parent with “sole custody” of a child has exclusive physical and legal custody rights concerning the child. These custody arrangements are usually limited to situations in which one parent has been deemed unfit or incapable of having any form of responsibility over a child — for example, due to drug addiction or evidence of child abuse. In sole custody situations, the child’s other parent has no physical or legal rights, but may be entitled to periods of visitation with the child (though those visits may be supervised, especially in situations involving domestic violence or child abuse).
In true joint custody arrangements, parents share equal legal and physical custody rights. This means that parents participate equally in making decisions about the child’s upbringing and welfare, and split time evenly in having day-to-day care and responsibility for the child — including the parent’s right to have the child live with them. True joint custody arrangements are rare because of their potential to cause both personal difficulties (stress, disruption of child’s routine) and practical problems (scheduling, costs of maintaining two permanent living spaces for the child).
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