The 4 Types of Court-Ordered Child Custody Arrangements


A child custody arrangement can establish the responsibilities of parents in raising a child, such as after a divorce. There are two basic types of custody that can be assigned: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody establishes the right of a parent to make important decisions on how to raise the child, while physical establishes where the child will live. The two can then be separated as either sole or joint custodies, creating a total of four different types of custody arrangements. We want to help you understand the basics of each of the four types of court-ordered child custody arrangements.

Sole Legal Custody

Under sole legal custody, only one of the parents is assigned the right to make important decisions regarding how the child is raised. That means the parent can make decisions without the input of the other parent if they choose. Examples of some of the decisions they can make include:

  • What doctor, dentist, or other health professional the child sees (except during emergencies)
  • What school or child care facility the child attends
  • What sports, music lessons, and other extracurricular activities the child participates in
  • What religious activities or institutions the child attends

Joint Legal Custody

If the court decides that joint legal custody is in the best interest of the child, both parents will have the right to decide upon major decisions regarding the child's education, health care, religion, and welfare. Joint legal custody parents do not have to agree upon every decision. In fact, one can make a solo decision if they choose. In order to avoid problems and the possibility of returning to court, however, the parents should do their best to consult each other and work together.

Sole Physical Custody

This establishes that the child lives with one of the parents full time, although they may visit the other parent. In some cases, the parents may have joint legal custody, but may not have joint physical custody. So even though the child may not live full time with one of the parents, they can still have a say in the important decisions regarding the upbringing of the child.

Joint Physical Custody

In this case, the child lives with both parents. Usually, the time spent living with each of the parents is not equal, however, as it can be difficult to split the time exactly in half. The parent who has the child for more than half of the time is often called the primary custodial parent.


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