How Does Child Custody Work in Your State?
Updated: 2022-03-02
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Let's 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, we'll look at the two essential legal elements of child custody: physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody refers to where your kids live. You and your children’s other parent may share physical custody or just one of you may have it. The legal term for sharing is joint physical custody. If the kids live with just one parent, that’s called sole physical custody.

Legal custody covers all the other important decisions about the children’s lives, including religious training, choice of schools and tutors, extracurricular activities, medical treatment, mental health care, and more. As with physical custody, legal custody may be shared (joint legal custody) or not (sole legal custody).

Joint or 50-50 custody looks simple on paper—each parent has the kids half time and shares in all important decisions—but it’s no surprise that life rarely works out so easily. In the real world, parents share custody in many different ways. Choose your state from the list below to learn more and get help creating the best parenting plan for your family.

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Jurisdictional relevance: There are versions of this article for each State.
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Learn about the child custody resources available to you at the Family Court in your county.