When couples with children divorce, the divorce decree will specify with whom the children will live and circumstances under which the other parent will visit the children.

In many cases, the parents determine these arrangements between themselves voluntarily or with the assistance of a family law attorney. If the couple is unable to reach an agreement, the court may intervene and make a decision based on the child's best interests.

Basic Custody Terms

Legally, the set of parental responsibilities regarding day-to-day care of the child as well as the rights to direct the child's activities and make decisions regarding the child's upbringing have been split into the separate categories of physical and legal custody for family law purposes.

  • Physical Custody means the actual living arrangements of the child and the rights and responsibilities associated with daily childcare; and
  • Legal Custody means the responsibilities associated with raising a child and includes such questions as religious upbringing, school choice, and medical care.

Physical custody is awarded to the parent with whom the child will live most of the time – the custodial parent. However, the custodial parent usually shares “legal custody” of the child with the non-custodial parent. “Legal custody” includes the right to make decisions about the child's education, religion, health care and other matters.

Types of Physical Custody

Joint Custody

In joint custody, parents share responsibility for decision-making and/or for physical control and custody of the children. Couples may agree upon joint custody or the court may order it. Couples with joint physical custody usually share legal custody, but joint legal custody does not necessarily mean joint physical custody.

Sole Custody

When sole physical custody is awarded or agreed upon, one parent has the exclusive, primary right to have the child live with him or her. Sole physical and legal custody generally only occurs when there is a history of abuse and neglect. In such instances the non-custodial parent may be limited to restricted or supervised visitation. Currently, the most common type of sole custody is sole physical custody with joint legal custody including the grant of generous visitation for the non-custodial parent.

Split Custody

Although much less favored, split custody is another child custody option. In this arrangement, one parent has custody of one or more of the couple's children, and the other parent has custody of the remaining children. Courts usually do not want to separate siblings when issuing child custody orders.

An attorney with child custody experience can educate you more about the factors and considerations of court decisions. Contact family law attorney Jason Fauss online or call 314-291-8899 to schedule a FREE consultation to learn how the law applies to your specific situation.