Legal Dictionary

joint custody

Legal Definition of joint custody


  1. A child custody decision which means that both parents share joint legal custody and joint physical custody. This is not very common and many professionals have taken to referring to "joint legal custody but sole maternal physical custody" as "joint custody".

Definition of joint custody


joint custody (uncountable)

  1. An arrangement whereby the mother and the father share the physical and legal custody of a child.

Related terms

Further reading

Joint custody is a court order whereby custody of a child is awarded to both parties. In joint custody both parents are "custodial parents" and neither parent is a non-custodial parent; or, in other words, the child has two custodial parents.

Concept of Joint Custody

Many states recognize two forms of joint custody: joint physical custody, and joint legal custody.

Joint Legal Custody

In joint legal custody, both parents share the ability to have access to educational, health, and other records, and have equal decision-making status where the welfare of the child is concerned.

Joint Physical Custody

In joint physical custody, which is also known as joint physical care, actual lodging and care of the child is shared according to a court-ordered custody schedule (also known as a "parenting plan" or "parenting schedule"). In many cases, the term 'visitation' is no longer used in these circumstances, but rather is reserved to sole custody orders. In some states joint physical custody creates a presumption of equal shared parenting, however in most states, joint physical custody creates an obligation to provide each of the parents with "significant periods" of physical custody so as to assure the child of "frequent and continuing contact" with both parents. Courts have not clearly defined what "significant periods" and "frequent and continuous contact" mean, which requires parents to litigate to find out.

Discussion of Joint Custody

Joint physical custody and joint legal custody are different aspects of custody, and determination is often made separately in many states' divorce courts. E.g., it is possible to have joint legal custody, but for one parent to have sole physical custody. In some states this is referred to as Custodial Parent and Non-Custodial Parent.

Also, where there is joint physical custody, terms of art such as "primary custodial parent" and "primary residence" have no legal meaning other than for determining tax status, and both parents are still custodial parents.

Other forms of custody

  • alternating custody - an arrangement whereby the children live for an extended period of time with one parent, and then for a similar amount of time with the other parent. While the children are with the parent, that parent retains sole authority over the children.
  • sole custody - an arrangement whereby only one parent has physical and legal custody of a child.
  • split custody - an arrangement whereby one parent has full time custody over some children, and the other parent has full custody over the other children.
  • third-party custody - an arrangement in whereby the children do not remain with either biological parent, and are placed under the custody of a third person.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     lex fori
2.     lex situs
3.     lex causae
4.     conclusive presumption
5.     AORO
6.     landed property
7.     lex domicilii
8.     Miranda warning
9.     lex loci delicti commissi
10.     Clayton's Case