Different Types of Custody

There are four main types of custody that you may be awarded during the child custody portion of the divorce process. They are: physical, legal, joint and split.

The most common type of custody awarded is physical custody. Physical custody is awarded to the one parent that the children will be living with for a majority of the time. The parent awarded physical custody of the children (or custodial parent) will most likely have to share what is known as “legal custody” with the non-custodial parent. Legal custody means that you are legally obligated to be included in all decisions relating to the children’s education, religion, health care and other life affecting concerns. It should be pointed out that in the case of a medical emergency, the “legal custody” right may be disregarded (although the other parent should definitely be notified as soon as possible) if not doing so would put the children in further medical jeopardy.


    Abigail and Bobby are a divorced couple who share legal custody of their daughter, Cindy. While visiting with Bobby, Cindy falls off a swing and hits her head on the ground, knocking her unconscious. Because this is a medical emergency, Bobby would not have to confer with Abigail about how to proceed, as doing so could further hurt Cindy.

Some parents may choose a joint-custody arrangement, which is when the children spend about an equal time living with both parents. This type of custody arrangement does have its plusses and minuses, however. Supporters of joint custody say it lessens the feeling of loss that children may experience during a divorce. Its detractors, however, think it best for children to live mainly with one parent in order to maintain a sense of “home”, but allow plenty of visitations for the non-custodial parent. Courts are usually hesitant to grant joint custody of children, due to the high degree of cooperation that is required between the parents.

The last custody type is also the least favored: split custody. With split custody, one parent has physical custody of one or more of the children, while the other parent retains physical custody of the others. Split custody is a very rare occurrence, however, as courts prefer not to separate siblings when issuing custody orders.

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