When it comes to gaining or losing custody of a child you love, it is important to understand that "custody" is not a single monolithic thing, but rather a term that refers to a number of different types of custody arrangements that can vary greatly. Different types of custody imply different rights and privileges, and understanding the differences is key to creating a truly fair custody plan.
Physical custody and legal custody are two types of custody that are often confused for each other. While they are similar in some respects, they are distinctly different and should be well-understood. Physical custody refers to where a child lives, or where he or she lives as the majority of the time. In many cases, a parent who has physical custody also has legal custody of the child. It is also possible for two parents to both receive joint physical custody, but not always. Often, only one parent receives primary physical custody, while the other gets some version of the "weekends and holidays" plan.
Legal custody, on the other hand, deals with a parent's right to make decisions about a child's life. If you and the child's other parent both receive legal custody of a child, then you both have the right to determine things such as where the child will go to school or make medical decisions for the child.
Custody arrangements are often difficult to navigate. For many parents, the emotionality of the situation makes it difficult to remain objective and create plan that is both functional and also keeps the best interests of the child in mind. It is also wise to enlist the help of an experienced attorney to protect your rights and the rights of the child you love.
Source: FindLaw, "The Various Types of Child Custody," accessed July 21, 2017