For family law purposes, there is no precise definition of “custody”. It is often described as constituting a bundle of rights and obligations. A parent having custody of a child will have authority to make decisions related to:
the child’s place of primary residence
health and medical issues
issues concerning religion – affiliation and practice
issues concerning extracurricular activities
day-to-day decisions while the child is in his or her care.
Sole Custody. Where a person has “sole custody” pursuant to a court Order or valid Separation Agreement, that person has authority to make decisions related to the child.
Joint Custody. Where parents have “joint custody”, the parents jointly make major decisions with respect to the child.
Joint custodial arrangements are various. The parties may agree or a court may order that the parties have joint decision-making with respect to only some issues, such as education and health, for example, leaving all other issues with the parent having primary care of the child.
Shared Custody. The custodial arrangement in which each parent has approximately equal time caring for the child.
Joint custody is not identical to shared custody. The parties can have joint custody of a child with the child residing primarily with only one of the parents. Conversely, the parties can have shared custody with only one of the parties responsible for decision-making on major issues. However, in a shared custody arrangement, the parties would typically also have joint custody of the child.
Split Custody. The custodial arrangement in which one parent has primary care and control (and the primary residence) of one or more children and the other parent the care and control (and the primary residence) of their other child or children. In this scheme, the parents may have joint custody of all the children, or they may each have sole custody of only those children in their care.
Parallel Parenting. Where the rights and obligations related to a child are divided between the parties and are clearly demarcated. This has been described as a joint custodial arrangement (in the sense that each of the parents has an important decision-making role) but may be distinguished from joint custody in the sense that consultation between the parties may not be required and joint decision-making not required. For instance, mom may be solely responsible for health-related decisions and dad solely responsible for decisions related to education. In this scheme, the child may reside primarily with one parent, equally with the two parents, or otherwise.
Photo: Vindy: Flickr Creative Commons License. Cropped; changed to black and white.