Understanding the Different Types of Child Custody That Exist Today

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Understanding the various types of child custody is essential in your case to maintain access to your children.

Some parents go into child custody legal battles without knowing what exactly each type of arrangement means. They either end up with an arrangement that they’re unhappy with or don’t know what to ask for.

In this article, we discuss the difference between legal child custody and physical child custody as well as others. Continue reading to find out what you want from your custody case.

Physical Child Custody


A parent with physical child custody is able to have their child or children live with them on a regular basis. This can be granted to a single parent or both parents.

Physical custody also means that if the parent moves, the child can move with them. However, this also depends on sole and joint custody, which we will review shortly.

It’s important to keep in mind that having physical custody is not the same as having legal custody. Legal custody can affect physical custody if one parent lives far away or plans to move. So, it’s possible for your child to live with you without you having the ability to make legal decisions on their behalf.

Legal Child Custody


Legal child custody refers to the decisions made in the child’s life. For example, a parent with legal child custody takes part in deciding where the child attends school. They also are responsible for making medical decisions on behalf of the child.

Child custody always focuses on what is in the best interest of the child. That sometimes means that a divorced couple may still have to work together in making important decisions for their child.

Legal custody is difficult for parents that do not work well together. Sometimes, this leads to every little decision becoming a battle, which is stressful for children.

If this happens, the judge may decide that joint legal custody is no longer in the child’s best interest. This means you or your former spouse may lose legal custody of your child.

Paternity can affect the outcome of both legal and physical custody. To learn about establishing parental rights under Florida law, follow this link.

Joint Child Custody


Among the different types of child custody, joint child custody is by far the most preferred option in the legal system. Again, custody arrangements always focus on what is in the best interest of the child. In most cases, having equal access to both parents is most ideal.

Joint child custody doesn’t necessarily mean an even split of time. However, the aim is to make it as fair as possible. It depends on the child’s ability to move between the two households.

These types of custody arrangements can alternate week to week or month to month. It’s even possible to spend one full year with one parent and another full year with the other.

There are two subtypes of joint custody: joint physical custody and joint legal custody. In some cases, parents may share both physical and legal custody of their children. However, that’s not always the case.

If parents live in different cities or different states, it may not be possible for the child to reside at both locations regularly. In these cases, one parent might have sole physical custody and joint legal custody while the other parent only has joint legal custody.

Sole Child Custody


Sole child custody is less desirable among the different types of child custody because the child no longer has equal access to both parents. It’s a practice that has become less common over the years. Though it is occasionally in the best interest of the child.

This can happen if one parent is deemed unfit by the court. You might be unfit for custody if you abuse drugs or have abused/neglected your children.

Sole custody also doesn’t have to be all or nothing. As in our earlier example, parents that live far apart might not be able to share joint physical custody. So, it’s possible for one parent to have sole physical custody.

As long as the other parent is fit, they are still able to play a part in their child’s life through joint legal custody. The opposite is true as well. A parent can have sole legal custody but still share physical custody.

Visitation Rights


If the judge grants sole custody to one parent, it doesn’t mean the other parent has no access to their children. Only in extreme cases would a parent get no access to their children.

This is where visitation rights come into play. The judge may order either supervised or unsupervised visitation.

Unsupervised visitation means that the children can visit their parent or go on outings with their parent. They can even stay over at their parent’s house with approval from the court. No supervision is required for this type of visitation.

Supervised visitation is used in more serious cases. For example, if the parent has a criminal record or is a potential risk to the child, they may need supervision for visits.

In some cases, a relative or family friend can supervise a visit. However, the court may appoint a social worker or another type of professional to supervise visits.

Navigating the Various Types of Child Custody

Divorce is already a stressful and confusing time and custody battles only make it harder. Plus, navigating the various types of child custody can be confusing.

However, it’s important that you do all you can to make the process easier on your child. Whether you seek sole child custody or joint child custody, keep your child’s interests at heart.

For more articles on navigating the legal world, visit our blog.

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