What Types of Child Custody Are There?

Posted on May 5th, 2021

Divorce is hard on a family, and sadly many have or will go through it. Too often, divorce includes a legal discussion about how both parents are to care for their child, and how much control they each have in the child’s life. To make matters tougher, child custody and visitation rights aren’t that simple either. Not only are there different types of custody, but they each also have distinct rules and legal regulations.

At Kalinoski Law Offices, we’re here to help break it down for you, and offer any assistance and consultation you need to help you retain the proper and desired child custody as you go through or prepare for a divorce.

Legal vs Physical Child Custody

The first thing you need to know is the difference between legal custody and physical custody. Each parent has both a level of legal custody and physical custody over their child. These two types have their own more specific labels, and work concurrently with each other, but independently.

Legal custody has to do with your legal authority to make decisions on a child’s behalf. Examples like this contain a child’s schooling, religious upbringing, academic tutoring, psychological counseling, and any non-emergency medical decisions. This kind of legal custody informs how much power you have in making decisions on these matters for children. You do not have to have full physical custody of children to have either type of legal custody. The two types of legal custody are sole legal custody and joint legal custody.

Physical custody has to do with who children are living with most of the time. You may commonly hear this referred to as “residential custody.” There are three types of physical custody, sole physical custody, joint physical custody, and bird’s nest custody. You can have sole legal custody or joint legal custody paired with any of these three options of physical custody, with exceptions.

Joint Legal Custody

When you were married, you and your spouse had joint legal custody of children. Most courts want to keep that from changing after your divorce is complete.

During joint legal custody, both parents have the legal authority to make major decisions for their children. With joint legal custody, if one parent has sole physical custody, or is at one moment the custodial parent, they do not have to ask the other parent before each and every important decision. Not doing so though, can be grounds for legal conflict, and become cause to bring in the courts to give one parent sole legal custody.

It is also possible for a judge to designate one parent as the tie-breaker for when the parents can’t agree. This is technically still joint legal custody, but one parent will have the final say over the other, pressuring both parents to get along.

Sole Legal Custody

If one parent is largely absent from the child’s life, or is soon going to be, one parent can be given sole legal custody. This is where only one parent has the legal authority to make decisions on things such as education, religion, and healthcare.

It’s common for this to happen if parents have been at each other’s throats, making it impossible to come to a decision on how to raise the child. A judge commonly decides on a sole legal custodial parent based on whether one parent lives far away from where children currently live, is abusive to the other parent or a child, or doesn’t spend as much time with their children as the other parent by a large margin.

Joint Physical Custody

This is also commonly called “shared custody,” “shared parenting,” or “dual residence.” This is where the parents will split a child’s time evenly between their residencies. The division of time must be equal, but how it is split is not the same for everyone.

If the parents both live close enough to the child’s schooling, the parents can switch at regular and consistent intervals every few days or weeks. If both parents do not, they can agree to divide the year into intervals or sections they deem fair.

Bird’s Nest Child Custody

In cases of a bird’s nest custody, children will live in one location, and the parents are the ones who rotate in on an agreed-upon schedule. This way children are never uprooted from their life, and maintain a consistent housing arrangement.

The schedule of the parent rotations, similar to joint physical custody, is agreed upon by the parents. This arrangement is considered costly, with many parents in this situation needing to maintain three separate residences.

Sole Physical Custody

In this instance, children physically reside at one location with one parent. It is possible for both parents to have joint legal custody of children while one has sole physical custody, but it’s also common for the same parent to have both sole and physical custody as well.

In this situation, children have one home, and the non-custodial parent is awarded visitation rights. Visitation is how a parent who does not have physical custody is able to see their children, typically on a regular basis agreed upon by the parents and the court.

Know Your Child Custody Rights

There is a combination of physical and legal child custody rights that are best for you after your divorce. If you need consultation on how to gain the custody rights you need to provide the best life for your children and yourself, contact Kalinoski Law Offices P.C.

We offer free scheduled consultations and will work to help you and your spouse come up with the best custody plan for your child, helping you with any scheduling needs. If you have any questions about your current child custody rights, you can contact us as well.

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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