Legal custody is not an everyday topic, nor thought of for that matter until it affects your life either directly or indirectly. However, once you dive into the subject, you will find many different terms to describe your rights. These rights can be different from case to case. Below we will go over the basics of legal custody to help you understand what each category means. 

Legal Custody 

Legal custody refers to the authority to make significant decisions for your child. Some examples of such decisions are where the child will attend school, if they will have a religious upbringing or not, and making emergency medical decisions. Legal custody has two options, which are:

1) Sole Custody — In this option, only one parent has the legal authority to make the child’s major decisions. 

2) Joint Custody — This option gives legal authority to make major decisions for both parents. In other words, both parents would have a say in religion, schooling, and healthcare decisions. 

Physical Custody 

Physical custody is the legal way of saying where the child lives the majority of the time. Physical custody is sometimes referred to as residential custody. There are three types of physical custody: 

1. Sole Physical Custody — Sole physical custody means that the child resides at one of the parents’ homes permanently. In most cases, the non-custodial parent is granted visitation and/or sleepover rights. 

2. Joint Physical Custody — In this scenario, the child lives with one of the parents during part of the time and with the other parent during the remaining time. The time spent with each parent is approximately equal. This form of custody is also known as a dual residence, shared parenting, and shared custody. 

3. Bird’s Nest Custody — This child, in this instance, lives in a central location, and the parents rotate in and out regularly. For example, one parent stays with the child Monday through Thursday, and the other parent stays Thursday until Monday. Think of it as the child or children staying in the original shared home and the parents moving into other residences. This option can be easier on the child but is more costly due to the need to maintain multiple residences.