If you live in Massachusetts and are getting a divorce, you know the process can be infinitely more complicated if kids are involved. You not only have to deal with alimony and property division, but also determine where the kids should live and who should have custody of them. If the divorce is amicable, this may be an easier decision for you. If you have strong feelings about where your children live and how much time they spend with your ex, it is important that you understand the different types of custody as defined by FindLaw.

Legal custody allows one parent to make any long-term decisions about the child’s care. This could relate to medical care, religious instruction, education and nay other aspects of their welfare. Parents can have joint legal custody, which means they both have a say in any decisions made for the child.

Physical custody determines who the child lives with and when visitation is allowed for any other caregiver or person in the child’s life. State rules are usually applied in these situations and a family court judge makes a decision regarding the best way to split physical custody after reviewing evidence.

When a parent has complete legal and physical custody of a child, they have sole custody. These situations are rare and usually only apply when one parent has demonstrated repeatedly that they are unable or unfit to care for the child. The parent may be allowed visitation under rules set by the court and these often have to be supervised by a professional.

Joint custody is when both parents share responsibility for the child. This is not just for their everyday care, but applies to any major decisions made about the child. Both parents have equal rights when it comes to the child and must be on board and agree on anything important that changes in the child’s life.

This is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as legal advice.