Child Custody Glossary

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child. Examples of major decisions include: where the child will go to school, the type of education, the form of religious upbringing, and non-emergency medical decisions. Legal custody options include:

Sole Legal Custody: The parent who has sole legal custody is the only person who has the legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child. These include decisions regarding education, religion, and medical. A parent having sole legal custody still has to confer with the other parent, but they have the ultimate decision-making power.

Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody means that both parents have to agree when it relates to making major decisions for the child. If the parents cannot agree, they typically have to go to a mediator. It should be noted that parents can potentially share "joint legal custody" without having "joint physical custody."

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers where the children live the majority of the time. This is sometimes referred to as "residential custody." Types of physical custody include:

Sole Physical Custody: With this type of child custody, the child physically resides at one location. In most cases, the non-custodial parent is awarded generous visitation rights, including sleepovers.

Joint Physical Custody: This form of child custody is also called "Shared Custody." In this situation, the child/ren spend substantial time with both parents. The division of time spent at each location is approximately equal, although not necessarily 50-50.


Parent-child visitation allows parents who do not have physical custody to see their children on a regular basis. Types of visitation include:

Unsupervised Visitation: This is the most common type of visitation. Parents with unsupervised visitation are able to exercise their visitation how and where they please. Courts order unsupervised visitation the vast majority of the time.

Supervised visitation: In some cases, the courts will order supervised visitation, which means that another responsible adult or supervisor must be present for the duration of the visit. Depending on the circumstances, the courts may allow the non-custodial parent to select an individual to serve as the supervisor--such as a grandparent. In other cases, the parent and child must meet at specified location so that an appointed social worker or court-appointed designee can supervise the visit. This occurs in cases where the court believes that unsupervised visitation would impair the emotional health and physical development of a child.

Virtual visitation: Virtual visitation typically takes place over the Internet and may include video chatting, instant messaging, and email. This is a new form of visitation becoming more common.

Allocation of parental responsibilities: As of January 1, 2016, Illinois courts will no longer use the terms "custody" and "visitation."  The courts may now "allocate" to each individual decision making power over each different section of the child's life. When allocating decision making to each parent, this allows both parents to be involved in making major life decisions for their children. These areas include: health, education, religion, and extracurricular activities.


Residential Parent

In joint custody cases, the parent whose address is being used for school and mailing purposes.

Parent Coordinator

A Parenting Coordinator is an impartial professional who helps separated and divorced parents improve their co-parenting skills and solve problems involving their children in high conflict child custody disputes. They are court appointed and granted certain powers and responsibilities by the Court. In Missouri, they can only be appointed when both parties consent.


An informal dispute settlement process run by a trained third party, called a mediator. Mediation is intended to bring two parties together to clear up misunderstandings, find out concerns, and reach a resolution. Mediation is not to be confused with arbitration where an arbitrator can make the final call. Mediators are also not judges and have no power to actually divorce people or enter judgments.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

Parental alienation syndrome occurs when one parent convinces the child that the other parent has nothing to offer the child, or that the other parent is a bad parent, and the child comes to see the other parent negatively in all respects. Where alienation has occurred, the child usually insists on staying with one parent and refuses to see the other — usually in order to show loyalty to one parent. Courts strongly disapprove of this type of behavior on the part of a parent when proven in making custody and visitation determinations.

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