Written by attorney Kathy Criscuolo Boufford

How Child Custody Works - Legal and Physical Custody Explained

Custody and visitation agreements can come in many different forms. First of all, it is important to understand that there are two types of custody that need to be addressed: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody determines who has the right to make decisions on the child’s behalf. Sole legal custody means that all of the decision-making authority goes to one parent. Joint legal custody means that the parents share that decision-making authority. Physical custody determines where the child will live. Traditional and still common parenting plans identify one parent as the primary residential custodian with the other parent having a set parenting time with the children. Less common, but growing in popularity, is shared custody. This is where the parenting plan is such that the children spend near equal time with both parents. There are several different schedules that are considered a shared plan and parents choose the schedule that would work best for the children and their needs/wishes.

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