To best understand your child custody and visitation options, you'll need to become familiar with the terminology used by legal experts. In particular, it's important to understand the distinction between legal custody and physical custody.
Legal CustodyLegal custody refers to the legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child. Examples of major decisions include: where the child will go to school, the type of education, the form of religious upbringing, and non-emergency medical decisions. Legal custody options include:
Sole Legal Custody: The parent who has sole legal custody is the only person who has the legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child. These include decisions regarding education, religion, and health care.
Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody means that both parents have the legal authority to make major decisions for the child. It should be noted that parents can potentially share "joint legal custody" without having "joint physical custody."
Physical CustodyPhysical custody refers where the children live the majority of the time. This is sometimes referred to as "residential custody." Types of physical custody include:
Sole Physical Custody: With this type of child custody, the child physically resides at one location. In most cases, the non-custodial parent is awarded generous visitation rights, including sleepovers.
Joint Physical Custody: This form of child custody is also called "Shared Custody," "Shared Parenting," or "Dual Residence." In this situation, the child/ren live with one parent for part of the week (or part of the year), and live with the other parent during the remaining time. The division of time spent at each location is approximately equal.
Bird's Nest Custody: This is when the children live in one central location, and the parents rotate in and out of the children's home on a regular schedule. For example, mom may reside at the children's home Monday evening through Thursday, and Dad may reside there from Thursday evening through Monday morning.
Parent-child visitation allows parents who do not have physical custody to see their children on a regular basis. Types of visitation include:
Unsupervised Visitation: This is the most common type of visitation. Parents with unsupervised visitation are generally permitted to take their children to their own homes or may enjoy an outing child their children during their scheduled visitation. Sometimes limitations are be placed on unsupervised visitation; for example, a non-custodial parent may be asked to visit his infant child at the mother's home until the child is accustomed to taking a bottle.
Supervised visitation: In some cases, the courts will order supervised visitation, which means that another responsible adult must be present for the duration of the visit. Depending on the circumstances, the courts may allow the non-custodial parent to select an individual to serve as the supervisor--such as a grandparent. In other cases, the parent and child must meet at specified location so that an appointed social worker or court-appointed designee can supervise the visit.
Virtual visitation: Virtual visitation typically takes place over the internet and may include video chatting, instant messaging, and email.