There are different types of child custody that can be granted by the court:
Physical custody (also known as parenting time in some jurisdictions) means that the child lives with you, at least part of the time. A parent with physical custody will be responsible for (and have the right to) see to the daily needs of the child, such as keeping him home from school when he’s sick and allowing him to go play with friends as well as the more major needs such as food, clothing and a safe place to sleep.
Legal custody gives you the right to make the major decisions that will affect your child’s life. A few examples of these types of decisions re where they’ll go to school, what religion they’ll practice and authorization for medical care.
Each of the custody types mentioned above (Physical and Legal) may be awarded jointly to both parents or solely, meaning only to one parent and each type of custody is addressed separately.
Joint physical custody, for example, allows the child to spend equal amounts of time with both parents, say a week with one parent and then a week with the other. You can, however, have a completely different arrangement and still have joint legal custody (both parents having the ability to make important decisions for the child)…the two custody concepts are ruled separately.
Even in cases of sole physical custody, many courts maintain the practice of awarding joint legal custody, allowing both parents to participate in decision-making processes. This requires the parents to communicate any concerns or desires about their child’s upbringing by maintaining a civil, cooperative relationship and work together as a team. Sole legal custody is also an option, though not the norm.
The main factor the courts consider is what will provide the most stability for the child. If the parents live close together and can both provide equally well, then a “back and forth” schedule may be a realistic possibility.
On the other hand, if the parents live farther away from one another, the court may rule that the child stay in one home during the school year and live with the other parent when school is not in session. Holidays, birthdays and other special occasions are also addressed during the negotiation process so that both parents have the opportunity to share in the child’s memorable milestones.
If sole physical custody is awarded to one parent, the other parent will likely receive visitation.