Definition of Child Custody
Child custody arrangements are the legal arrangements decided by the court to determine who has physical and legal custody of a child after a parent's separation or divorce. Child custody arrangements include legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, joint custody and birds nest custody. Parents who have legal custody have the right and obligation to make legal decisions about the child, including choices about schooling, religion and healthcare. Parents may have joint legal custody or sole legal custody, which allows one or both parents to make decisions about the child. The disadvantage of this arrangement is the parents may have differing philosophies about important issues which can cause a high degree of conflict.
The next child custody arrangement is physical custody. This arrangement determines if the child will live with one or both parents. Some states allow for joint physical custody, which allows the child to live with each parent for the same amount of time. Parents with joint physical custody have the benefit of spending a maximum amount of time with their child, but it can be tough for the child to be shuffled back and forth between two houses. The third custody arrangement is sole custody. Under this arrangement one parent is considered the custodian and the other parent has visitation privileges. This arrangement is uncommon unless the court determines living at one of the parent's homes is not good for the child. It also does not provide much contact with the noncustodial parent.
Joint custody allows for the parents to share decision-making responsibilities. This arrangement can include joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both. This arrangement can be good for the children if the parents are willing to work together and maintain two homes. Contact with both parents can also be beneficial for the child.
Finally, couples may agree to a bird nest custody arrangement. This arrangement allows for the child to stay in the same place while the parents take turns moving in and out of the home. This arrangement, while least disruptive to the children, may be difficult for the parents.
« Back to Glossary