Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions regarding his or her child’s health care, education, and religious upbringing. Legal custody can rest with one parent (i.e., “sole” custody) or both parents (i.e., “joint” custody).
Physical custody is held by whichever parent shares a primary physical residence with his or her child. Parents with physical custody are responsible for their child’s daily routine and care. As with legal custody, physical custody can be granted to one or both parents.
Historically, labels governing custody (whether “joint” or “physical”) were directly related to the issue of child support. Today, due to newly enacted child support laws, the custody titles themselves have no bearing on child support arrangements.
When a child custody case is contested, the court may require a custody evaluation to be performed by an evaluator. This evaluator will interview the parents, child, and other third-party sources (i.e., daycare provider, doctor, etc.).
The custody evaluator will submit a report with his or her recommendations for custody and parenting time based on their analysis of what arrangement serves the “best interest of the child.” The court will look at several factors to determine a child custody arrangement.