Types of Child Custody in Family Law

Types of Child Custody


When it comes to your child, it is understandable that your feelings as a parent can escalate any situation. In the case of divorces, separations, and general custody battles, children can amplify any situation. Mostly, the parents make these sorts of situations worse, as a former couple can sometimes battle out for full custody.
It is important that before attempting a custody battle, you need to know what child custody means and what offenses could take away custody rights. In its definition child custody is when:

”A custodial parent is a parent who is given physical or legal custody of a child by court order.”

Ultimately, a child-custody determination is decreed by a judge to the parent who will determine the upbringing of the child. There are multiple types of custody a judge can grant to a family. There are seven different types of custody a judge can rule in a case.

  • Alternating Custody
  • Shared Custody
  • Bird’s Nest Custody
  • Joint Custody
  • Sole Custody
  • Split Custody
  • Third-Party Custody


Alternating Custody is when a child lives for an extended period of time with one parent, and another period of time with another parent. This type of custody is also called Divided Custody and is usually applied to couples from different states or even countries. The main difference between alternating custody and joint custody is that in alternating custody, the parent who has the child retains sole authority over the child while they are in that parent's care. Only when the child leaves to the other parent, is custody shifted. Again, this type of custody is typically utilized when the parents of a child live long distances away from each other, such as states or countries.


Shared custody of a child means that the child will live with one parent for an extended period of time. After that period of time, the child will be allowed to stay with the other parent. In this type of custody, both parents retain custodial authority over their child, however, only when the child is in their care or residence.


Divorce or separation can be difficult for a child. Because of this stress, some parents choose to apply for a bird’s nest custody arrangement. In this scenario, the child remains in a permanent location, and the parents move from place to place. In this case, one parent will leave to a separate location, while the other parent stays to care for the child. Of course, this style of custody can be more difficult for the parents but is much more stable for the child. A drawback of this type of custody is that both parents will need to still find a separate place to stay while the other parent is watching their child. Because this is a less economical version of custody, it is the rarest form that couples choose for their custody case.


Joint custody is one of the most common forms of child custody. In this version, both parents have rights to their child, this is called joint legal custody. Both parents also shared joint physical custody, which means the child’s legal place of residence is recognized as the home of the separated parents. For instance, a mother and father can have two separate homes, and both homes are considered the home of the child. And, because both parents still have legal custody, under their individual homes, the parent has a say in their upbringing. The only way in which this version of custody differs from bird’s nest custody is that the residence of the child is determined by the home of each parent.


Sole custody was once the most popular form of custody until the 1980s. In the past, when a couple divorced, sole custody was given to the mother and the father was granted visitation. Today, however, joint custody is not the more common approach to divorce, as courts are attempting to make separations more equalized in terms of responsibilities and time with the child.
Sole custody is when one parent is granted sole legal and physical custody of the child. In this case, one parent is responsible for the upbringing of a child and ultimately can determine the visitation rights of the opposite parent. In most situations, sole custody is granted to a parent that is able to provide for the child. If one of the parents has been accused of any abuse, neglect, unemployment, and even addictive habits, their rights for custody and child visitation could be terminated. In this case, one parent would be granted complete guardianship of their child and file for child support from the opposite parent.
It is important to note, however, that if one parent makes a false allegation of abusing their parental rights or neglecting their child, the other parent could suffer severe consequences. Making a false allegation in court could mean a termination of parental rights.
According to the Oklahoma Bar Association, if a parent is found to have made an intentional false allegation against another parent for sexual abuse of their child, “ the court shall proceed with any or all of the following: . . . Award the obligation to pay all court costs and legal expenses encumbered (sic) by both parties arising from the allegations of the accusing party.” These “legal expenses” include the expenses for all court meetings, as well as paying for all the family law attorney fees for both themselves and the parent they have accused.


In a split custody case, children are separated with some living with one parent, and the other living with the other parent. Split custody is generally chosen because it allows the children to live in one permanent place, without having to trade living spaces. Though this type of custody allows for a clear separation between parents, it allows means there is a separation among siblings. Because of this, split custody is generally criticized as being too separatist in family situations.


If both parents are not capable of properly caring for their child, third-party custody can be granted. In this type of custody, guardianship can be given to a relative, such as an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Unfit parenting would be determined by a court by acknowledging if both parents are physically, mentally, or emotionally able to care for their child. Also, if both parents have demonstrated an inability to provide for their children, they could be denied parental rights.


At the Women and Children’s Law Center, we have family law attorneys ready to help you in your case. With our legal counsel, we will be able to represent you in court and give you a ruling that you can be happy with. If your spouse and you have opposing ideas about how custody should be handled, having an attorney on your side could mean a huge difference in the final decision. Contact our Oklahoma City family law center today and speak with one of our child custody lawyers.

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