There are numerous different types of custody for children, and it is important that you understand each one when going through a divorce.  Sometimes, with the numerous names and the legal jargon involved in the divorce process, custody concepts are easily confused.  The best way to understand the different types of child custody or visitation is to familiarize yourself with the terminology you are likely to hear legal experts are using during the process.  The two primary types of custody are legal custody and physical custody.  For this reason, it is extremely important that you understand the difference in the two.

Legal Custody 

When you hear the term legal custody, it is simply referring to which parent has the authority to make major decisions for the children.  This includes things like religious upbringing, where the children go to school, and the type of education they will receive.  Sole and Joint are the two main types of legal custody.  Sole custody is when only one parent has the authority to make these major life decisions for their children.  Joint legal custody is when the parents make major decisions together.  You do not have to have joint physical custody, however, to have joint legal custody. 

Physical Custody

Physical custody covers where the children will live.  Physical custody is the same as residential custody, so you may hear the term residential in place of physical.  Sole, Joint, and Bird’s Nest are the main types of physical custody.  Sole physical custody is where the child only resides in one place.  Typically, the parent who is not awarded custody is given visitation rights.  Joint physical custody goes by a number of different names, including: shared custody, shared parenting, and dual residence.  This is when children live with both parents an equal amount of time.  It may be during certain parts of the year, or it may be one week here or one there.  Typically, if custody is split during the year, the parent who does not have the child for that part of the year will have visitation rights.  Bird’s Nest custody is when children live in one home, and the parent’s go in and out.  The parents have a regular schedule of when it is their turn to stay home with the children.  For example, mom may come in Monday and leave Thursday after school, and dad may stay Thursday after school until after taking the kids to school on Monday. 

Visitation

Parents who are not awarded physical custody, and cannot see their children every day, are typically awarded parent-child visitation.  As is with the case of custody, there are numerous different types of visitation.  The main types are unsupervised, supervised, and virtual visitation.  Unsupervised visitation is what the parent without physical custody is usually awarded.  This means the parent picks the child up and takes them to their home or to a planned outing and brings them back.  Limitations are sometimes placed around unsupervised visitation, like visiting a breast fed infant in the home until the infant is accustomed to drinking from a bottle.  Supervised visitation is when another adult, besides the parent, must be present during the visitation.  Circumstances vary, and the other responsible court selected individual could range from a grandparent to a social worker or other court appointed social service employee.  Virtual visitation is new in the technological age we live in.  This type of visitation usually comes in the form of video chatting, instant message, or even email.