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Child Custody | Legal Custody, Physical Custody, Joint Custody, Sole Custody And More

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Child Custody, Legal Custody, Physical Custody and More

When parents divorce, or when unmarried people have a child together, child custody is almost always an issue. After all, both parents will usually want to spend as much time with their child as they can. Prior to starting a child custody battle, many parents are not aware of the different types of child custody.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is the most common custody type available. Physical custody means that the parent has the right to have the child or children live with him or her. Most modern custody agreements give physical custody to one parent and child visitation rights to the other parent. These visitation rights typically include exclusive time with the child on weekends, holidays, and a number of weeks during summer vacation.

Legal Custody
Legal custody means that the parent has the legal authority to make decisions about their child’s education, health, and upbringing. Legal custody is often given jointly to both parents, even when one parent has sole physical custody, unless it is shown that one parent is clearly unfit. Joint legal custody requires the parents to come to a consensus about many difficult subjects, such as religious instruction, medical care, and education, all of which will shape the child as he or she grows.

Sole Custody
Sole physical custody occurs where the court determines that one parent is unfit, and the child lives only with the other parent. Sole physical custody most often occurs when one parent has financial, drug, or alcohol problems. It may also be awarded where on parent is living with a new partner and the new partner is deemed unfit to care for the child.

In most instances, the parent with sole custody has both physical and legal custody. Sole custody arrangements are actually rare, and limited to situations where one parent is clearly unfit. Even where one parent has sole physical and legal custody, the non-custodial parent will still likely have periods of visitation with the child. However, where domestic violence or child abuse is involved, these visits may be supervised.

Joint Custody

Joint physical custody means that the child lives with both parents on a scheduled basis. The schedule will often be created by the parents and approved by a judge. Every schedule is different, and is based upon the needs of the child and the parents’ schedules. Depending on the child’s age, the parents may rotate by day, week ,or even month when both parents live in close enough proximity to the child’s school. However, where one parent lives a significant distance away, the child may live with one parent primarily during the school year and the other parent during weekends, holidays, and summer vacation.

A newer form of joint child custody is referred to as a bird’s nest custody arrangement. With the bird’s nest arrangement, the child or children continue to live in the family home at all times. The parents then rotate who lives with the children on a scheduled basis. The arrangement is seen as beneficial to young because it allows them to attach their emotions to the family home.

See related blog posts:

International Child Custody Case Reaches the United States Supreme Court
Resolving a Child Custody Matter With the Courts


If you have questions about child custody you may need to contact an experienced Santa Rosa child custody attorney to help you determine what your child custody needs may be.

The Santa Rosa child custody lawyers at Beck Law P.C. have worked on child custody cases for decades. We understand the various factors that a court may consider when deciding on custody matters. Each parent’s economic situation as well as many other variables will come into play. There is not necessary clear rules on how the court may rule in each case and advocacy can play a powerful role. You can contact the Santa Rosa law office of Beck Law P.C. online, or call 707-576-7175 for a free child custody matter consultation.

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