Understanding The Different Types Of Child Custody

When the average person thinks about the idea of having custody of a child, they may not realize just how many different variants of that concept there are. Let's look at some of the different ways this issue may be viewed by a child custody attorney.

Physical Custody

This is what dictates which parent the child actually lives with. It is possible for this type of custody to be shared jointly by two parents, and this covers the scenario where a kid spends a certain amount of time at one parent's house and a certain amount at the other's place. Notably, this form does not dictate who gets a say in decisions about the child's upbringing and well-being, even if the kid solely lives with a particular parent.

Legal Custody

A lot of decisions have to be made in life, and it is rare that a court completely excludes one parent from being able to have a say. The assignment of sole legal decision-making rights does happen, but a judge will typically want to see evidence that one parent is a significant danger to the child before supporting such an order. This form covers a wide range of long-term decisions, including where a kid goes to school, how they worship, and what medical choices are made.


When one parent has sole physical custody of a child, there is still likely to be visitation allowed. The courts generally encourage continuing interactions between kids and their parents for the mental health of all involved. As with legal decision-making rights, a high threshold of evidence that a parent is a source of harm to a child must be met before all visitations will be banned.

Notably, visitation rights extend to other family members. In particular, most states also recognize the legal rights of grandparents to visit with their grandchildren.

This does not mean that someone can just drop by whenever they want. Instead, a court order will encourage parties to arrange structured and predictable schedules to follow.


A major concern of the courts is that travel activities may facilitate kidnapping or denying access to a child. For this reason, travel restrictions are often imposed on both parents and the child. This may limit, for example, whether a parent, even a non-custodial one, can move out of state to take a new job. When travel is planned, it must be cleared by the court in advance.

For more information, contact a child custody attorney.