Understanding the Different Types of Child Custody Arrangements

Child custody is one of the most important issues that need to be dealt with in divorce, annulment or legal separation. Determining child custody arrangements can be difficult especially if both parents are unable to reach an agreement. In such case, the court needs to intervene to reach a decision. Child custody arrangements are decided by family courts based on factors that will affect the child’s best interest. These factors include:

  • Parenting ability: Courts look into the parent’s emotional and physical well-being and the capacity to provide the child’s basic needs i.e. food, shelter, education, clothing, medical care as well as love, support, and guidance.
  • Child’s age: Courts evaluate the quality of the child’s relationship with each parent. When younger children are involved, courts consider which parent is the primary caregiver.
  • Safety: Courts investigate instances of domestic violence, abuse, and neglect or any record of drug or alcohol problems.

Hiring a family law attorney specializing in child custody cases can work with clients to help them reach a resolution while protecting their rights and well-being. These are the different types of child custody arrangements.

Legal Custody

Legal custody entitles a parent to make decisions that will impact the child’s upbringing. This includes which school the child will attend, the medical treatments they will receive, and their religious orientation. In some cases, courts award joint legal custody, which allows both parents to exercise equal rights in making decisions affecting the child’s general welfare.

Sole Custody

In this type of arrangement, the custodial parent or the parent who is awarded sole custody, gains both legal and physical custody of the child. The other parent or non-custodial parent is granted visitation rights but does not have any custodial rights. The non-custodial parent also cannot make any decisions involving the child’s welfare and needs.

Physical Custody

Physical custody determines the primary residence of the child. The child will live with the parent who is awarded physical custody by the court, while the non-custodial parent will be granted visitation rights. The non-custodial parent must follow the visitation schedule ordered by the court.

Joint Physical Custody

Courts also award joint physical custody which allows the child to live with both parents based on an agreed schedule. This type of arrangement is common as the court wants to ensure that the child is able to maintain meaningful contact with both parents.

Sole Physical Custody

Sole physical custody of a child usually happens in high-conflict divorces. In this type of arrangement, the child lives with the primary custodial parent more than 50% of the time. The child may visit the non-custodial parent on alternating weekends, during school break or holidays.

a girl holding her teddy bear

Third-Person Custody

A court can award custody to a third-party, usually the grandparents, step-parent or a close relative. This type of arrangement may happen when both biological parents are unable to care for the child. For third-person custody to be granted, the third-party must file a non-parental custody petition and meet these two criteria:

  • Adequate Cause: Parents are deemed legally unfit as evidenced by drug or alcohol addiction, incarceration, criminal activity, abandonment, severe neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
  • De Facto Parenting: The third-party is the primary caregiver who provides shelter, education, and financial support, and has been making decisions in behalf of the child on a daily basis.

Custody battles are a challenging and complex process. The above types of child custody arrangements will help parents in the process of divorce know what to expect when the court makes a decision on who gains custody of their child.

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