When two parents decide to live in separate households, they must make legal arrangements for their children with regard to parental responsibility, housing, financial support and the power to make important decisions for their welfare.
Both custody and visitation are terms that involve the how, where and when a child lives his or her life, but they denote different concepts that are important to understand for separated parents.
Child custody is more than just where a child lives, and falls into two primary categories. The two forms of custody are:
- Legal, or the power to make decisions for the child about schooling, religion and medical care
- Physical, or the parent that is responsible for supervision and housing for the child
Parents may have split or shared physical custody, or granted solely to one parent, while legal custody is either shared or given to one parent. A judge will grant custody to separated parents after consideration of several factors, with the child’s best interest as the primary priority.
When one parent has sole physical custody of a child, the noncustodial parent is often granted visitation privileges. These privileges are often according to a specific schedule and may require third-party supervision in some cases.
Visitation may involve a certain number of hours, nights or days with a noncustodial parent depending on the court’s decision. It is possible for parents to share legal custody, but not share physical custody. A parent with visitation may also have legal custody, so while they may not maintain responsibility for housing the child, they may make major decisions for him or her.