When parents divorce, custody arrangements are essential for determining which parent(s) have the authority and responsibility to care for minor children and make decisions on their behalf.

However, this does not always result in an even 50/50 division of time and responsibility. The law recognizes two types of custody, physical and legal, and depending on each parent’s circumstances a final settlement may involve a combination of shared and sole custody arrangements.

What is physical custody?

Also known as residential custody, physical custody refers to a parent’s right and responsibility to provide a child with a home and make day-to-day decisions regarding essential care. In cases of shared physical custody, one parent often becomes the primary residential caregiver while the other acts as an alternate caregiver.

What is legal custody?

A parent with physical custody may also have either sole or joint legal custody over a child. Legal custody involves the right of a parent to make larger decisions about educational needs, medical care, spiritual development, financial preparations and other long-term life choices.

What is joint custody?

The court may determine that parents share either or both physical and legal custody, especially if divorced parents live in close vicinity and can maintain a healthy relationship with each other and with shared children.

Under a joint physical custody arrangement, former spouses negotiate a parenting plan to determine when a child or children will spend time with each parent. With joint legal custody, both parents have the right to be actively involved in decisions regarding schooling, medical care, religious upbringing and other issues.