In family law, legal child custody consists of a number of rights, responsibilities and obligations of individuals in relation to a child.
Custody is awarded by the court based on a legal petition; for example, if a little girl is orphaned after a tragic accident that takes the lives of her parents, her grandparents can enter a request in family court to assume custody of their granddaughter. When this petition is granted, the court will remind the grandparents that they have physical and legal custody of the child, which means that they have the right to live with their granddaughter and the obligation to provide for her nurturing and upbringing.
In dissolution of marriage and separation proceedings, child custody is the most important issue to be resolved. Physical custody is often the most contentious issue; this is the right of a parent to live with his or her child most of the time. Contrary to popular belief, physical custody is not always awarded to a child's mother due to preference; in fact, most couples that go through divorce agree that their children should remain with their mother when that is the best arrangement. Nonetheless, the court plays a protective role when granting custody.
Some jurisdictions grant joint physical custody, which means that there is no custodial parent. Physical control of the child is divided in an agreement approved by the court. Each parent is expected to maintain an abode that is always ready to receive and accommodate the child, who could spend more than two days and two nights of each week at home if the parents live close to each other.
Joint custody arrangements may call for parents to alternate the time they live with their children on a weekly or monthly basis. Naturally, joint custody also means that parents will have full responsibility for their children, and not just during the time that they spend together.
The legal agreements and arrangements of joint child custody are not always easy or pragmatic. Courts may assign case managers to review how children are being impacted by the arrangement, and there is a possibility that monetary child support could become a moot issue since the parents agree to evenly split the costs of bringing up their children.