Legal and physical custody can be joint, shared, split, or sole custody. Joint, shared and split custody usually refer to the arrangements between parents. Sole custody refers to situations where one parent gets custody, while the other parent has limited rights.
Joint, shared, and split custody describes the different ways to divide custody. Physical custody and decision-making authority differ between each type of custody.
In a joint custody arrangement, both parents are awarded legal custody of their child but not equal physical custody. Essentially, both parents have the rights and responsibilities of joint custodians (responsibility to confer, right to visitation, etc.) but they do not equally share the physical custody of the child. Depending on the schedules of the child and their parents, or the locations of the parents’ homes, equally shared physical custody may not always be feasible. In these circumstances, unless agreed to by the parties, a domiciliary parent will be designated.
In a shared custody arrangement, both parents are awarded legal custody of the child and share equally in the physical custody of the child. This means that the child will spend equal time living with each parent. Both parents have the rights and responsibilities of joint custodians (responsibility to confer, right to visitation, etc.) and their circumstances are such that shared (50/50) physical custody of the child is feasible and in the best interest of the child. Also in these circumstances, unless agreed to by the parties, a domiciliary parent will be designated.
Split custody can be unusual. It involves different custody arrangements for individual children in a family. One parent may have physical custody of one child for a different amount of time than the other. For example, a dad may have domiciliary custody of a son, while a mom has domiciliary custody of a daughter.
Or, one parent may have full decision-making authority related to one child. These cases usually involve special circumstances. One parent may have better skills to manage the needs of a child with a disability, for example.
In a sole custody arrangement, one parent gets primary physical custody of the child. This parent would have the sole legal custody of the child. This parent would not have an obligation to exchange information with the other parent regarding the child or to confer with the other parent in exercising his or her decision-making authority.
Sole custody can only be awarded if agreed upon by the parties or if custody to one parent is shown by clear and convincing evidence to serve the best interest of the child.
In regards to physical custody, when one parent wins sole custody, the other parent may or may not have visitation rights. This depends on the best interests of the child.