At its simplest, custody is the responsibility for care. Legal custody has two parts: (1) physical custody and (2) authority. Legal custody comes in five types: (1) joint, (2) shared, (3) split, (4) sole, and (5) guardianship.
Joint, shared and split custody usually refer to arrangements between parents. Sole custody refers to situations when one parent gets custody, while the other parent has limited rights. Guardianship contemplates non-parent custody of a child, including foster care and institutionalization.
Physical Custody and Authority Over the Child
Physical custody is the responsibility for the physical supervision and care of a child. It means being in charge of where the child goes, who they are with, what they do, and what happens to them. During a parent's physical custody time, the parent is in charge of the child's body.
The law favors splitting physical custody time between both parents on a 50/50 basis, if possible. This physical custody schedule attempts to encourage shared care of the child.
For many reasons, 50/50 division of physical custody is not always possible. When it's not, the child should have close, frequent, and ongoing contact with both parents.
Authority is the responsibility for decisions about the child. This might include decisions about the physical custody of the child. Authority contemplates decisions like where the child will go to school or church. It also includes decisions like which sports or programs the child participates in. Medical care and discipline decisions are also part of parental authority.
The law favors dividing authority between both parents as well. Joint custody is when parents share approximately equal physical custody and authority.
Joint, Shared, Split, and Sole Custody
Joint, shared, and split custody describe the different ways to divide custody. Physical custody and decision-making authority differ between each type of custody. The differences are described below.