Types of Child Custody

If you are in the middle of a divorce or breakup that involves children, you may be wondering what child custody options are available.  Several types are discussed below, but know that some states do not grant every type.

Physical custody determines where the child will reside.  Parents with joint physical custody each have the children in their home approximately half of the time. This could possibly be one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent or three and one half days of each week with each parent.   Sole physical custody means that the children live with one parent  but they may have visitation with the other parent.

Split custody means that one parent has sole physical custody of one or more of the children while the other parent also has sole physical custody of at least one of the children. Judges don’t grant split custody often, as they commonly like siblings to live together in the same home.   This type is more common with older kids such as when one child may want to attend a school in the other parent’s school district.

Another type that isn’t common is Bird’s Nest custody.  In this type, the kids live in the same house all of the time, and the parents take turns living with the kids, usually one week on and one week off. The kids get the stability of living in the same home, but the parents may have difficulty with this arrangement if one or both choose to remarry. And, both parents have to maintain their own residence plus the residence with the kids. Bird’s Nest custody arrangements require a high level of communication and cooperativeness from both parents in order to be successful.

The second major category is legal custody which determines who has authority to make decisions on behalf of the children. If both parents have legal custody, then both parents must share in the process of making decisions. But, there can be various provisions such as one parent has complete control over educational issues while the other parent is in charge of medical care. Joint legal custody is the popular option with the courts.

With sole legal custody, one parent has full authority to make all decisions on behalf of the children. But, this parent will probably still be required to share information about the children such as medical treatment and school records.

When the court renders its decision, the type of custody awarded does not necessarily remain in place until the children are grown. Some parenting agreements state that there should be a review at pivotal points in the child’s life such as entering elementary school or high school. If there is child abuse or neglect, a change could be granted. And, either parent may decide to ask the court for a review although state law might prohibit a parent from filing for a custody change for a specific time period after the last review.

Think carefully about which custody option would be the best for your children, and then what would be best for you, personally. You’ll need to discuss your specific situation with your lawyer. Unless your ex is mentally ill, violent, or a substance abuser or you have some other mitigating circumstance, you are not likely to receive sole legal custody. But, you may be able to address some of your co-parenting concerns through a parenting agreement. Keep your children’s best interests in mind, and seek the best situation to meet their needs.