New clients are often confused about terminology around the word “custody.”   That’s because, in the legal world, there are two different kinds.

  1. Physical Custody:  The parent with whom the children reside most of the time is the primary physical custodian.   That person is said to have physical custody.   Normally, this is a situation where the children live with one parent, and visit the other parent on a schedule such as the Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines.   However, even if the children were spending 60% of overnights with one parent and 40% of overnights with the other parent, the one having 60% would still be considered the primary physical custodian.
  2. Legal Custody:   A parent has legal custody if they take part in making important decisions involving their children.   These important decisions are defined as ones relating to education, religion or healthcare.   Specifically, a parent with legal custody can choose what school their child will attend, whether that student should be placed in advanced classes, whether an Educational Assistance Plan is warranted, and things of that nature.   A parent with legal custody can choose their child’s religious upbringing and whether they will have a religious education.   That parent can also choose what doctors to use and what medical care to apply.
  3. Joint Physical Custody:  This happens when the children spend roughly half their time in each household.   Courts rarely grant this unless both parents agree to it.   Parents need to have the same rules, discipline and expectations to make this work.   However, when it does work, it is wonderful for the children.
  4. Joint Legal custody:  It is a very normal practice for courts to give both parents joint legal custody.   Obviously it works best if both parents can communicate well and have the same, basic ideas about education, religion and healthcare.   If not, a joint legal custody order can result in many trips back to court for a Judge to decide which parent gets to make the final decision.

I hope this clarifies your understanding of the various types of custody.