Legal Guide

Five Common Types of Child Custody Arrangements

Divorcing or separating couples have important decisions to make, including who gains custody of the children and what type of custody. Child custody refers to a parent's rights and responsibility over a child's upbringing, care, and control. This article discusses the five types of child custody arrangements: legal, sole, physical, joint, and bird's nest.

  • Legal Custody

In this type of custody, the parent reserves the right to make important decisions about a child's upbringing. These decisions include what school the child will attend, the kind of medical care they will receive, and the religion they will follow. Although most prefer joint, legal custody can be sole or joint, provided the parents are willing to cooperate.

If the court awards joint custody or when there is an emergency, only one parent retains greater custody rights. The parent with primary physical control of the child's location will have the greater rights, however, temporarily, until they can reach the other parent.

  • Sole Custody

One parent shall have legal and physical custody of the child in sole custody. The parent with custody can make legal decisions on behalf of the child, and the child will live with them. The court typically awards sole custody in cases where one parent (the non-custodial parent) threatens the child's well-being.

A parent can also get sole custody if the other parent is no longer around–perhaps, they are deceased or incapacitated. The important thing here is that the non-custodial parent has no visitation rights.

  • Physical Custody

A parent with physical custody reserves the right to have their child live with them physically. Their place will be the child's home since they will spend most of their time there.

The court can award both parents physical custody; the child will split their living arrangements between both parents' homes. Either that or the parents will design a schedule allotting alternating periods when the child will live with them. For example, the child can live with one parent during the school year and spend summers at another parent's house.

  • Joint Custody

As the name implies, both parents share joint custody of their child. This implies that both parents share equal responsibility over certain aspects of the child's life, including how much time he spends with each parent. Also, they both have a say in the child's upbringing, including his school and religious choice.

In joint custody, parents can either get joint physical custody or joint legal custody. That is, they get to decide their child's upbringing method, split the time they spend with their child, or both.

  • Bird's Nest Custody

Bird's nest custody is less common than the other four types of child custody. In this type of custody, the child does not change residence; the parents will take turns living there.

This arrangement helps the child since not having to split homes continuously makes it easier for them to adjust. On the other hand, it can make things harder, particularly if the parents disagree on certain household issues. Plus, there can be an instance where one parent refuses to leave when the other parent's turn to live with the child arrives.


Divorce and separation affect both the couples and their children–if they have any between them. ” A child custody attorney will be useful if you have child custody arrangement issues. They can help you focus on the best outcome for your child while protecting your rights as a parent,” says Attorney Samah T. Abukhodeir of The Florida Probate & Family Law Firm.

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