It is common to simply refer to child custody as just that, but the reality is a bit more complex. Child custody is comprised of multiple components that are designed to protect the best interest of the child. According to FindLaw, child custody involves both legal and physical custody of the child.
Legal custody of a child refers to the rights and responsibilities of one or both parents to make decisions that will directly affect the child’s life. This may include things like choice of religious upbringing, educational decisions, and decisions about medical care. In a sole custody situation, one parent has these rights. In a co-parenting situation, both parents will need to work together in order to collaborate on decisions regarding the child.
Physical custody of a child, on the other hand, refers to where the child actually lives. In a sole custody situation, the child will generally reside with the parent who has physical custody, and the non-custodial parent will have visitation rights. In a co-parenting situation, both parents will share physical custody of the child and generally the child will move back and forth between houses on a regular basis. The amount of time spent at each house in a co-parenting situation will depend on mitigating circumstances, including how far apart parents live from each other.
The most common custody division in the modern courtroom is co-parenting, due to research showing that children do best in a co-parenting situation since they get the active involvement of both parents in their lives. Sole custody tends to be applied only in situations where one parent is unfit.