If you’re confused about the different types of child custody and how they work, you’re not alone. Here, we’ll demystify some of the basic terms and concepts you need to know when you’re trying to create a good parenting plan, focusing on what it means to share custody of your kids.
To start, let’s look at the two basic legal elements of child custody: physical custody and legal custody.
Physical custody is all about where your children live. You and your children’s other parent may share physical custody or just one of you may get physical custody. The legal term for sharing is joint physical custody. If the kids live with just one parent, that’s called sole physical custody.
When parents divorce or separate, the law allows only one of them to claim their child as a tax dependent. By default, the IRS gives this right to the custodial parent—that is, the parent with whom the child lives for more than half of the year. But there are ways to change the default rule and give child-related tax benefits to the non-custodial parent.
A 2019 study showed that child support payment amounts vary dramatically from state to state. A parent in one state may pay or receive up to three times as much as a parent in an identical situation who lives in another state—and the differences don’t depend on cost of living.
Given this, a parent might reasonably wonder whether it would be possible to get a lot more child support—or pay a lot less—by moving to the state next door. For better or worse, it’s not that easy.