Types of Child Custody Arrangements

By Lois G. Schwartz | October 19, 2019

What is Child Custody?

Child custody arrangements can take many different forms. Parents negotiating a custody arrangement or a court ordering a custody arrangement will adopt a child custody arrangement that is best under the family’s particular circumstances, including the best interests of the children, the parents’ circumstances and agreement, and state law. Below are the various types of child custody arrangements.

Physical Custody

When people speak of child custody, they typically refer to the physical custody arrangement. Physical custody refers to having physical control and responsibility over a child. There are many different arrangements for physical custody, which can either be determined by a court or can be determined by agreement of the parents without the intervention of the court.

Joint Physical Custody

Joint physical custody is an arrangement in which a child lives with both parents. Joint physical custody arrangements are typically preferred by courts when not counter-indicated by a family’s particular circumstances — for example, if one parent has demonstrated a lack of fitness to parent or if the parents demonstrate an inability to coordinate on drop-offs and pick-ups or conflict over their separate parenting styles. Joint custody arrangements are preferred because children maintain meaningful contact with both parents in these arrangements.

Despite what the name may suggest, joint physical custody arrangements do not mean an even 50/50 split of parenting time. All that is required is that each parent have meaningful periods of parenting time. Even splits of parenting time are possible when both parents live in close geographic proximity to one another. Otherwise, joint physical custody arrangements may be more uneven, with one parent being designated the parent of primary residence. For example, one parent who lives closer to the children’s school may have custody during the school week, with the other parent having custody during weekends and school breaks. 

Sole Physical Custody

Sole physical custody is an arrangement when only one parent has physical control and responsibility over a child at all times. In sole physical custody arrangements, the other parent may be entitled to visitation time, but even during that visitation time the parent with sole physical custody is still deemed to have custody of the child and the parent with visitation generally cannot take the child anywhere without the knowledge and/or consent of the parent with custody. 


Visitation is parenting time granted to a parent who does not have physical custody of the child. Visitation can either be supervised, meaning both the parent exercising visitation and the child must be visually supervised by a third party, such as another family member or an individual designated by the court, during the entire visitation time. Or, visitation time may be unsupervised. Visitation can even take place during overnight periods, with the child sleeping at the residence of the parent exercising visitation. However, because the other parent retains custody over the child, the parent exercising visitation cannot take the child anywhere without the knowledge or consent of the parent with custody, since that parent retains physical control and responsibility over the child at all times. 

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the second aspect of child custody, and concerns the right to make decisions regarding a child’s upbringing, including educational, medical, and religious/moral decisions. In most cases, child custody arrangements will call for joint legal custody, meaning both parents must agree on things like choice of school, religious upbringing, or medical treatments. Courts may deviate from joint legal custody when parents demonstrate an inability to come to agreement on matters of their child’s upbringing, and in such circumstances will deviate from joint legal custody by either granting one parent final say (but still having the obligation to consult the other parent) or granting one parent sole legal custody with no obligation to consult the other parent on upbringing decisions. 

Contact a Cherry Hill Family Law Attorney for a Consultation About Child Custody in New Jersey Today

If you are thinking about filing for divorce, or if you have already started the divorce process and are dealing with another matter such as child custody, child support, or property division you need to speak with a qualified attorney. Family law attorney Lois Garber Schwartz, Esq. represents clients throughout the state, including Camden, Gloucester Township, Winslow, and Pennsauken. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at (856) 482-8799 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 1040 Kings Hwy. N., #202, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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    Lois Garber Schwartz

    1040 Kings Highway N., Suite 202

    Cherry Hill, NJ 08034


    Phone: 856-375-8989

    Fax: 856-482-0343