The Different Types of Child Custody, Explained

Hossein Berenji, Aug 25, 2021

Ideally, you may have planned to stay with your spouse for life when marrying them. However, for very justifiable reasons, it can sometimes be necessary to end a marriage. In fact, approximately 50% of all American marriages end in divorce.

If a couple getting a divorce has children together, they may both wish to have custody. A number of factors will influence who may receive custody of the children if you and your spouse get divorced. That said, it’s important to know that there’s more than one type of child custody in California. Types of child custody include the following:

Legal Custody

A parent who is granted legal custody over their children has the right to make critical decisions about their children’s lives. For example, a parent with legal custody can determine which doctor a child sees and where they go to school. A court may grant joint legal custody if it’s determined that you and your ex can get along well enough to agree on these important decisions.

When parents have joint legal custody, they both have the right to make various significant choices. Unfortunately, some exes are unable to cooperate with one another. A court may be less likely to grant joint custody when this appears to be the case.

Under California law, parents with joint custody don’t have to agree on every decision they make for a child. A parent can make such decisions independently. Parents with joint legal custody are simply encouraged to communicate with one another when making these types of decisions.

Physical Custody

A parent who has physical custody of a child is the parent who primarily lives with them. This does not necessarily mean a parent with physical custody is the only parent who lives with a child. Usually, one parent will merely live with a child more often than the other when they’re granted physical custody.

Joint physical custody is also an option. With this arrangement, children spend as close to an equal amount of time as possible living with both parents.

Additionally, arrangements can be combined depending on what appears to be best for a child. For example, joint legal custody may be granted, with one parent having physical custody.

Sole Custody

As the name implies, sole custody is an arrangement in which only one parent has both legal and physical custody over a child. The other parent may have visitation rights.

A court sometimes grants sole custody for reasons such as limiting disruption in a child’s life. Sometimes, moving back and forth between two homes on a regular basis is clearly too difficult for children. On the other hand, a court may not be inclined to grant sole custody because it appears that significantly limiting the involvement of one parent in a child’s life is not ideal.

If sole custody is granted, visitation rights may come in one of the following forms:

  • Scheduled visitation: This may be the most common arrangement. Parents and courts can come up with visitation schedules that clearly define when a child will spend time with the parent who has visitation rights. These plans need to be fairly detailed to prevent confusion.
  • Reasonable visitation: This option is considered if two parents seem to get along extremely well. It’s much less specific than scheduled visitation. Both parents informally decide what constitutes a “reasonable” amount of time for a child to spend with each of them.
  • Supervised visitation: In instances when there may be concerns regarding the safety or general well-being of a child, a parent with visitation rights may need to be supervised by the other parent, another trusted adult, or a representative of a qualified agency.
  • No visitation: A court may deny a parent any visitation rights if their presence in a child’s life would be harmful to them.

Struggling to determine what qualifies as a fair child custody arrangement can be one of the most challenging aspects of an already painful experience. What’s most important is that an arrangement be in the best interests of a child. Experienced family lawyers can help you pursue an arrangement that is suitable for you and your children.