Types of Child Custody

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, only half of the kids today in the US are part of a “traditional family.” More children today live in families with remarried parents or single parents than ever before. 

In 1960, only 5 percent of children were born outside of traditional heterosexual marriage, while that number is at 41 percent today. Since so much has changed in the past few decades, more complexity is involved in making child custody decisions. 

Since 2010, Brown Family Law has stood in the gap to help families through these difficult changes within their family structure. Our team of experienced and compassionate child custody attorneys stands ready to protect and defend your rights as a parent.

Call Brown Family Law today at (801) 685-9999 for a legal consultation. Let us help guide you through your legal custody case to maximize time with your kids.

What is Child Custody?

According to the CDC, the Utah divorce rate was 3.3 out of every 1,000 residents in 2021, among the highest rates in the nation. With divorce being so common nowadays, more and more legal and physical custody arrangements must be made. Families with kids will need to decide which parent gets sole legal custody or whether a joint legal custody situation is possible.

Essentially, custody determines who gets full control over important decisions when it comes to their kids’ lives. Decisions – such as medical treatment, where that child will live, who will pay child support, and more – need to be made. Many times, one parent will want more control and a custody agreement cannot easily be reached.

Physical and Legal Custody

There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. When a parent has physical custody, the children live at his or her home. This parent with sole physical custody provides for the kids’ physical needs, such as providing shelter, food, and clothing, and is in charge of making authoritative decisions regarding the minor children. 

Examples of legal custody decisions can include:

  • Where the child may attend school
  • Religious education
  • Extracurricular activities
  • The child’s upbringing
  • Medical treatment

In some cases, the solution is for both parents to share joint physical custody. Joint physical custody means children get to live with both parents according to an arrangement that suits everyone. 

Either way, both physical and legal custody must be decided in child custody cases. A judge will typically decide based on the best interests of the children, so it’s important to hire a child custody attorney to prepare a strong case.

How Child Custody Cases Are Determined

How child custody cases are determined really depends on the relationship of the parents. If the parents still live together or they agree on being able to share legal custody, they may agree on the child custody arrangements. This would mean legal custody and physical custody arrangements could be resolved.

The problems happen when there is no real agreement between the parents. Such a case can turn into a major legal battle. 

Family courts can be a place where parents eventually work out the custody of the children, but a judge will get involved if they can’t. The judge would determine who gets sole custody, visitation rights, how to divide parenting time during school breaks, and more.

Parenting plan

In a best-case scenario, parental plans will go a long way in preventing a long custody battle. Parents are often better than courts at making these decisions because they have a better idea of how their lives work. They are in tune with childcare, schooling, work schedules, and even the children’s preference. 

Parenting plans can become a part of a divorce settlement agreement and determine the following:

  • Sole legal custody
  • Sole physical custody
  • Joint legal custody
  • Split custody
  • Visitation time
  • Shared custody
  • Other custody arrangements that work around difficult schedules


No matter how hard they try, sometimes parents cannot come up with a custody agreement. The next phase would be for each party to select mediation on their own or else be forced by the court to attend mediation in hopes of settling the custody arrangement. 

In this instance, a neutral party who is a legal professional will do his or her best to help the parents agree on doing what is in the best interest of the children.

During the mediation process, a family law attorney may be present to help outline any legal issue that the court considers to be relevant. If the child custody arrangement cannot be resolved, evaluations come next.

Custody evaluations

If no mediation can be struck in the child custody case, the custody evaluation process may resolve the issue. Custody evaluations call for bringing in a trained mental health professional who will help the court make an official ruling. The evaluation involves a close look at each parent’s home to determine the ideal custody arrangements for the child in question.

The best interests of the child

Every family situation is different. When a court has the role of deciding what is in the best interest of the child, it does not take that decision lightly. 

The judge may rule in favor of the parents to share joint legal custody, or it may find that only one parent is capable of having sole custody. 

A custody ruling depends on a variety of factors, which can include the following:

  • The recommendation of a mental health professional
  • The outcome of a custody evaluation
  • The child’s preference if he or she is old enough
  • The child’s schooling
  • Which option would least disrupt the children’s lives
  • Whether there was neglect or abuse in the home
  • Whether the parents work a job and have the most stable income
  • Whether the child has special needs, which must be taken into consideration
  • Whether only one parent’s sole custody would be too much of a disruption
  • Whether joint legal custody would be beneficial
  • The support of the extended family
  • Which parent has been the child’s primary caregiver

While many people believe that a court will more frequently award custody to the mother, this is not the case. There is no gender preference for one parent over another. The judge will see the bigger picture and look for the safest, most productive outcome. This usually means finding a way for both parents to have a meaningful role in the child’s life.

Type of Child Custody Arrangements

The types of custody that parents or a judge could agree to can be broken down into several categories. These categories can include primary custody, sole custody, and joint custody. Within these areas could be other types of arrangements, such as visitation rights or other types of legal custody.

Joint custody is when both parents have a full say in the child’s life. Primary custody is when a child spends most of the time with one parent. Sole custody is when one parent has full control and the other has little to no access to the child.

Brown Family Law Stands Ready to Fight for the Parental Rights of Utah Parents

As a parent, one of the scariest situations you can face during a divorce is the chance of losing custody of your child. This is especially true if your spouse has little interest in handling the situation civilly. The only option you may have is to hire a family law attorney to fight for your rights as a parent. Working with an attorney can offer you more peace of mind than if you handle your case yourself.

Brown Family Law has been around for well over a decade, helping Utah parents like you resolve heated custody battles. Our team of compassionate and knowledgeable family attorneys is here to guide you. If you want to spend more time with your kids, your first step is to give us a call.

Call Brown Family Law at (801) 685-9999 for an initial consultation on your case. Our representatives are also available on our website 24/7, so you can reach us when you need us the most.

Published On: May 2nd, 2023Categories: Child CustodyComments Off on Types of Child Custody
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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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