Types of Custody Shared custody, more commonly called joint custody, is when both parents hold custody rights to care for their children. There are two types of custody rights you might share as a parent: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody establishes who your child lives with and legal custody establishes who has the right to make legal decisions on behalf of your child. If you have joint physical custody, you share the lodging and care of your child with his or her other parent according to a parenting schedule. If you have joint legal custody, both you and your child’s other parent share the responsibility of making major life decisions for your minor child about things such as school, medical care, and religion. It is common for one parent to have sole physical custody, and the other parent to have visitation rights, and both parents share legal custody rights. It is not common for there to be shared physical custody, but only one parent granted legal custody rights. Reasons for Not Gaining Primary Physical Custody Most courts want to award both parents joint physical and legal custody, as it is in the child’s best interests to have a relationship and spend time with both parents. However, the court will award sole physical custody to a single parent if it is the best for the child. If one parent has a history of abuse or neglect that would potentially expose the child to physical or psychological harm, it might prevent that parent from gaining shared physical custody. Also, if one parent has substance abuse or mental health issues that would prevent the parent from providing proper care for the child, shared physical custody might be denied. While you may think that getting sole physical custody in these situations will be easy, don’t be surprised if it becomes a long and challenging process. Even if you are granted sole physical custody, the court will still work diligently to bring the other parent back into your child’s life by giving them visitation rights, supervised if necessary, or ordering mediation and counseling. Why? Most psychological experts and law professionals prefer joint custody as it results in a much better outcome for the child. Other reasons a parent might not gain shared physical custody include: Jail Time - If one parent is in jail or prison, they cannot provide a home or care for the child. Relocation - If one parent is going to move out of state or out of the country, sometimes sole physical custody with visitation rights is best for the child. Reasons for Not Gaining Sole Legal Custody The situations that could prevent a parent from gaining shared legal custody are similar to the situations that could prevent them from gaining shared physical custody. Ongoing drug or alcohol abuse Child abuse or neglect Domestic violence Mental health issues Jail time Relocation The most important aspect of joint custody to understand is that any custody agreement can be changed at any time if one parent petitions the court and can show a change of circumstance. Custody is a complex subject, and the laws vary by state and jurisdiction. If you have questions about custody, we recommend that you contact an experienced family law attorney in your area to learn more.