Understanding Legal Lingo: Custody

Beginning the process of obtaining custody of a minor child can be a very confusing time for parents. Courts often use terms that have very specific legal meanings. It is important to ask for the right things when filing for custody, but this can be difficult if a parent does not know what exactly to ask for.

There are two main types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. “Legal custody” encompasses the major decision making areas when it comes to the minor child. This includes medical decisions, educational decisions, religious decisions, etc. “Shared legal custody” allows these decisions to be shared by both parents. “Sole legal custody” means that only one parent has the power to make these decisions.

“Physical custody” refers to the actual physical possession and control of a minor child. In other words, physical custody explains how the time spent with a child is split. Here, usually each parent will care for the child for roughly half of the year. “Primary physical custody” gives one parent the child for the majority of the time, usually more than half of the year. “Partial physical custody” means that one parent will physically care for the child less than half of the time. “Sole physical custody” gives the physical custody of the minor child to one parent exclusively. “Supervised physical custody” allows one parent to spend some time, usually less than half of the time, with the minor child while under the supervision of some third party.

Understanding these different labels put on custody can make it easier for each parent to know what rights they do or do not have when it comes to caring for the minor child. Knowing these terms can also be useful for parents who are filing for custody or seeking to modify an existing custody order, so they can be sure they are asking for what they really want.

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