The term custody, when used in reference to children, means different things to different people. Most commonly, people think in terms of legal custody and physical custody. Many people hear misinformation regarding custody and the effects custody designations have on parental rights.
Legal custody refers to decision- making authority in certain areas. For example, when one parent has sole custody, it normally means the sole custodian has decision-making authority in three areas: major educational, major medical and major religious decisions. A sole custodian will not normally have unfettered decision-making authority in all areas, such as total control over the non-custodial parent’s access. Of course, it is possible that a judge will customize an Order to help avoid future problems.
Physical custody refers to where a child actually spends time. If a parent is designated primary physical custodian, it means that the child will reside most of the time with that parent. Normally, the primary physical custodian receives child support from the other parent
If parents have joint custody, it means that the parents share decisions in the three areas listed above, not that the parents necessarily have equal time with the child. When parents with joint custody cannot reach an agreement, a mediator is often used to help develop a compromise.