Types of Child Custody

In divorce court, there are different types of child custody. This is sole custody or shared parenting. In juvenile court, both of these options exist, as well as legal, physical, and temporary custody. In probate court, there is guardianship. Each type of custody is unique in its own way and courts decide which one to grant depending on circumstances.

Shared Custody/Parenting

When both parents are involved in the child’s life, it is called shared parenting. When the arrangement is between one parent and a non-parent, such as a grandparent, it is called shared custody.

In a shared parenting arrangement, both parents are involved in the child’s life and share physical and legal custody. Shared parenting means shared decision-making and responsibility. The time with the child is determined by schedules, who works when, and what makes sense. The time spent with the child is usually not a 50:50 split.

Courts try to grant shared parenting as often as possible, if they believe it is in the best interest of the child. It is believed that a child benefits greatly by having both parents involved in his/her life.

Shared parenting also increases the likelihood that child support payments will be made. A parent who is involved in decision-making regarding a child is more likely to support his/her child than a parent who is not involved in the decisions and is only a “weekend parent.”

Sole Custody

Sole custody is referred to as the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities primarily to one parent, subject to the visitation rights of the other parent. This is when one parent has exclusive custody of the child. This parent often has both physical and legal custody. The other parent still has visitation rights and rights to medical and school records.

This arrangement is less favored than shared parenting. A court will usually only grant sole custody if one parent is seen to be unfit or has been uninvolved in the child’s life for a substantial period of time.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is basically the same thing as sole custody. Legal custody means that a parent is allowed to make medical, religious, legal, and other decisions that affect the child’s upbringing. Courts usually grant this type of custody if parents are unable to decide of these things jointly. The court grants one parent the legal right to make these decisions.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is when a child lives primarily with one parent. Physical custody is usually granted when one parent is unable to devote the appropriate amount of time to the child. This non-custodial parent still has visitation and legal rights; oftentimes the child lives with him or her on alternate weekends and sometimes during the week. If one parent has a history of abuse, he or she may only be granted a small amount of visitation time, and this under supervision.

Temporary Custody

Temporary custody is generally only given to an agency. Since custody is always modifiable, the term “temporary custody” is rarely used, unless it is with an agency.

In a temporary custody arrangement, a court grants custody of a child for a limited period of time. This usually occurs when a child is in need of some kind of medical treatment which uses federal funding, such as treatment for leukemia. In these cases, an agency receives temporary custody while the child goes through the treatment.


A legal guardianship arrangement is granted to a person or people who become responsible for the child’s upbringing. A guardian cares for the child and acts in his or her best interests. It is not granted between parents. If a parent cannot take care of the child, an agreement is made between the parent and whoever is going to be the guardian, who is usually a close relative.

A guardian is appointed when a child’s parents are unable to take care of him or her. This guardian has all the rights and responsibilities of a parent (such as making school, housing, medical, and legal decisions). This does not necessarily take away the rights of the biological parents.

Legal guardians do not always have to pay the child’s expenses on their own. The biological parents may be required to pay child support. If the parents are deceased, inheritance money may be used to cover some of these expenses. Some kinds of financial aid may also be available.

A legal guardianship is similar in many aspects to full custody. Unless the child’s parents have had their rights terminated, they may still have some responsibilities involving the child. Usually, they have visitation rights and financial responsibilities.

There are two types of guardianship: permanent and temporary. A permanent guardianship generally lasts until the child reaches the age of 18. A judge can, however, end a permanent guardianship under certain circumstances: for example, if the parents want their child back and are seen to be capable of caring for him or her, or if the guardian is not acting in the best interests of the child.

A temporary guardianship is a non-permanent solution used in a variety of situations in which parents are unable to care for their child. This arrangement usually lasts only for a few months, and may be ordered because both parents are temporarily leaving the country or because a single parent is hospitalized. Temporary guardianships end when the allotted time has passed, or when the parents are able to return to caring for the child.

There are guardians of estate and guardians of the person. This can be the same person, or two different people. If the child has any money, in the form of an estate, a guardian of the estate will be appointed to oversee this money. The guardian of the estate must make a report to the court, every two years, about how the money is being spent. The guardian of the estate may have to post a bond in order to be appointed.


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