Understanding The Four Main Types Of Custody

Child custody law is a complex issue to deal with. One area that can leave people playing catch-up is the different forms of custody that are recognized by the courts. If you're trying to make sense of a situation, it can be helpful to do a quick study on the four main types of custody.

Physical Custody

When people talk about who's going to "get" the kid, this is what they're usually talking about. Physical custody entails being either the primary or sole person who has a particular child living in their home. In cases involving unmarried fathers, it is common to assign sole custody to the mother unless the father asserts his rights. A father may want to hire a child custody attorney to petition the court.

Even in cases where two parents want to split responsibilities, there are practical reasons why primary physical custody has to be awarded to just one. The importance of having a home base for dealing with things like school and activities figure prominently.

Notably, being granted physical custody does not mean having unlimited say in where a child lives. The court can impose restrictions on relocating with a child if it would prevent the other parent from having access to them. Relocating a child without permission from the court may be deemed a form of parental kidnapping.

Legal Custody

Raising a child means making decisions, and legal custody is about who gets to make those choices. This includes decisions about the child's education, medical issues, and spiritual life. Legal custody is necessarily separate from physical custody because one parent is likely to physically have custody of a child even if both parents get to have an equal say.


This is as close to a down-the-middle equal arrangement as is possible. Within reason, both parents try to have the same amount of time with the child. Courts often avoid this sort of arrangement if there are worries about the abilities of the parents to regularly coordinate with each other.

Split Custody

If there is more than one child from a relationship, custody of one kid might be awarded to one parent while custody of the other kid may be awarded to the other parent. Breaking up siblings is usually frowned upon, but there may be practical reasons for a split arrangement. For example, one parent might have easier access to a desired school for one child.