There are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody is the right of a parent or guardian to be in unsupervised physical possession of a child. Legal custody is the right of a parent to make decisions regarding the health, education, religion, upbringing, and other aspects of the child’s life.

A divorce settlement, custody agreement, or court order allocates each of these types of custody in one of two ways—solely to one parent or jointly for both parents to share. Moreover, the same type of allocation need not apply to both types of custody.

For example, a mother may receive sole physical custody of her child while jointly sharing legal custody with the father. This means that the child lives with the mother but the father still has the right to participate in decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. In cases where one parent receives sole physical custody, the other parent may receive visitation—the right to periodic and temporary physical possession of the child.

Each type of custody has pros and cons. Sole custody promotes stability in the child’s life and avoids the conflicts that can come from requiring both parents to agree on decisions affecting the child. But if the parents are still able to work together amicably, joint custody gives the child the benefit of having both parents participate in his or her life.

Ultimately, the best custody arrangement depends on the unique family situation and the relationship between the parents and their child or children.
Last update of the article: 06/22/2020.

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