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Home > Blog > Family Law > What Are the Main Types of Child Custody?

What Are the Main Types of Child Custody?

If you’re thinking about getting a divorce, or you’re already in proceedings, you likely know that the most difficult part of any case is determining child custody. Custody battles are always hard, but you may not know that they don’t always have to boil down to one side against the other. There are actually multiple types of child custody that can be awarded, depending on the parents’ capabilities, the child’s needs, and what each side is seeking.

Types of Child Custody

These are the main types of custody that are awarded during custody battles:

  • Sole custody. Sole custody is a common form of custody awarded when one parent is clearly the better choice for the child’s wellbeing. This type of determination is usually reserved for cases where the child’s life with the other parent would be tumultuous, such as in cases where domestic abuse, drug abuse, or other volatile factors are present. Sole custody may also be awarded in cases where both parents mutually agree to sole custody, though this is rare. Sole custody is exactly what it sounds like—only one parent retains physical and legal guardianship of the child, and the other parent forfeits all of those rights.

  • Joint physical custody. It may seem like “joint custody” is the natural alternative to sole custody, but joint custody is actually more complicated than it seems on the surface. There are multiple types of joint custody, including joint physical custody. In joint physical custody, the child must spend time living with each parent. For example, one parent may receive the child on weekends, while the other takes weekdays.

  • Joint legal custody. Joint legal custody is an entirely different concept. With joint legal custody, one parent may (or may not) have sole physical guardianship of the child, but both parents must mutually make major decisions for the child’s life, such as major medical decisions or educational decisions.

  • General joint custody. While it’s possible that a judge may award only joint physical or joint legal custody, it’s more common to award a mix of both in what’s known as “general joint custody.” This is a catch-all for any form of joint custody that features both physical and legal aspects.

Factors for Determination

So what factors are responsible for determining what kind of custody is givenHYPERLINK “” and to whom?

  • First, parents’ desires must be assessed. If both parents are able to agree to the same terms of custody, a judge will usually follow that recommendation (unless outside factors, such as evidence of abuse, come to light). This is why it’s important that divorcing parents spend some time negotiating how they would like to share custody before getting into a heated court battle; the more you can resolve proactively and without issue, the better. However, most parents find it difficult to agree on a mutually satisfying arrangement that still keeps the child’s best interests at heart.

  • Child preference. Since child custody is generally given in whichever way serves the best interests of the child, the child’s direct preference is often taken into consideration. This is especially true with older children, who are better able to understand what’s going on and better able to articulate their feelings. Still, most children are interviewed separately to evaluate their relationship with each parent. If they strongly feel closer to one parent over the other, the split in custody will likely favor that parent (barring other factors coming into play).

  • Employment history. Like it or not, the income and employment reliability of each parent is an important factor for consideration. Though judges will not typically award guardianship based solely on income level, secondary employment factors may inform them about the parent’s character and stability; for example, a parent that is unable to hold steady employment may not be as reliable for a growing child as someone who has held the same job for the past decade. In some cases, work performance may also come into play, such as if one parent spends an excessive amount of time in the office.

  • Familial relationships. Each parent’s familial relationships may also be evaluated, with judges tending to favor parents who have strong relationships with distant family members. This isn’t inherently biased against parents who don’t have parents, siblings, or cousins to enrich their child’s life, but may be a “tiebreaker” factor in cases where both parents make a strong case for guardianship.

  • Physical and emotional stability. Judges will also look at parents’ physical and emotional stabilities. For example, a history of bipolar disorder and other mood disorders that cause unpredictable behavior could produce a bad environment for a child to be raised alone in. Along similar lines, if one parent has a medical condition that renders them unable to perform basic physical responsibilities, it may be unsafe for a child to live with them.

  • Relationship history. One of the most important factors for judges to consider is the relationship history between the child and both parents. Red flags here could immediately take one parent out of contention for custody. For example, if there’s any history of physical abuse by one parent, that parent will be highly unlikely to attain any kind of physical custody. If there are strong indications of drug or alcohol abuse by one parent, that could also sway the case toward the opposite parent.

No two custody cases are the same, so it’s hard to say exactly what types of custody would be awarded based on these dynamic, variable factors. It’s a combination of these qualities that ultimately determine your success, so consider them carefully and work to proactively negotiate an agreement with your partner.

If you’re interested in learning more about how custody works, or if you’re ready to seek formal legal counsel for your divorce, contact us at Rowdy Williams. We’ll give you everything you need to build a strong case, no matter what type of custody you’re seeking.

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