Child Custody Glossary

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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 medicine. 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 to 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 spends 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 the 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, allows both parents to be involved in making major life decisions for their children. These areas include health, education, religion, and extracurricular activities.

Other Terms:

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. Mediation An informal dispute settlement process is 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.

Contact Our Attorneys In Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Indiana

To set up a consultation with our knowledgeable child custody lawyers, please give us a call at 855-805-0595 or contact us online. We have offices in St. Louis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield, Wichita, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Lincoln, and beyond.


Full Service Child Custody Representation

Our child custody practice focuses on protecting the wellbeing of children and the rights of parents. We handle issues such as:
Often called parenting time, visitation is the amount of time a noncustodial parent spends with his or her child. We can handle a broad spectrum of visitation matters.
Creating a parenting plan
Getting visitation rights means drafting a parenting plan that works. We can help.
Relocation with a child
Courts have continuing jurisdiction over child custody and visitation orders. So, when a parent wants to move, it is usually necessary to get the court's permission first. Failure to do so can put your time with your child in jeopardy.
Enforcement of orders
If a parent fails to follow a child custody order, it may be possible to take him or her to court to enforce the order.
Contempt of court
If you are found to have repeatedly ignored a court order, you may be found in contempt of court.
Modification of orders:
When you need a court order changed, you can work with the experienced attorneys at Stange Law Firm, PC.
Custody Issues for Nonmarried Parents
Next to divorce actions, paternity cases (custody and support cases between unmarried parents) are among the most common cases in family law.
Parental Rights
Parents are often concerns about their parental rights, especially fathers in certain circumstances.
Family Access Motions
If you are being denied access to your children, you may want to consider a family access motion.
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
If you have jurisdictional issues involving your custody case, you will want an attorney familiar with the UCCJEA.
Custody Evaluations
If you have a complex custody case where psychological issues or abuse may be in play, you might want to consider a child custody evaluation
Hague Convention
If you are dealing with an international child custody dispute, and perhaps child abduction, knowing about the Hague Convention is often critical.
Third-Party Custody
If you are not the biological parents, in certain cases all may not be lost. You might have a right to third party custody in certain situations.
Fertility and Surrogacy
Fertility and surrogacy is a growing area of the law for those who want children.
In some custody cases, parties might live far apart. This can result in difficult child custody cases with transportation at issue.

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