There are several kinds of child custody parents can seek when they're separated or going through divorce. Starting with the most basic is physical custody. Physical custody is what you think of when you think about seeking custody. It's physically having your child with you. Parents can share physical custody, or one parent can seek primary or sole physical custody.
Joint custody, or shared custody, means that both parents spend time with their child. In many instances, courts aim to have each parent spend a similar amount of time with the child. With sole physical custody, a parent may have complete custody of a child without the other parent being active in the child's life. With primary custody, the other parent may have visitation rights during a portion of the week or on another schedule.
Physical custody has nothing to do with legal custody, which is the right to make decisions for the child. Courts may allow both parents to have legal custody or could determine that only one parent should have legal custody. It comes down to factors like who is better able to make decisions for the child, if both parents are in balanced relationships with the child and who has the child's best interests at heart. In most cases, both parents share legal custody of the child, so they can make decisions on the child's educational needs, medical care and other important issues.
Getting the right custody plan matters. Our website has more on what to expect if you go to court to work out a custody plan for your child.