At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Often, the relationship between child custody and visitation can be confusing. The fact is, child custody and visitation both concern minor children of a custody order, but they are considered separate in many jurisdictions. When a person has custody, he typically has the right and responsibility to make important decisions for the child named in a custody order or the right to have the child live with him all or part of the time. When a person has visitation, on the other hand, he typically has the right to spend time with the child, either at the child's home or in another place. He may not have the right to have the child live with him, however.
There are different types of custody a person can have. For example, a person may have legal custody, which typically means he has the right to make important decisions for a child, such as where the child will go to school, what type of medical treatments he will receive, and which sorts of religious practices he will follow. A person may have sole legal custody, which means he is solely responsible for making these decisions, or joint legal custody, which means he shares the decision-making with another party. In some cases, a person may have legal custody and visitation, which typically means he has the right to make decisions for the child, but the child does not live with him.
In some cases, a person may have sole physical custody, which often means the child lives with him all of the time. In such a case, the other parent may have visitation with the child. Sometimes, however, parents have shared physical custody, which often means the child lives with each parent for a nearly equal amount of time and no one has visitation, or the word visitation is used to mean a schedule of parenting time. In such cases, the time spent with each parent may be called parenting time.
Sometimes courts create situations that are like child custody and visitation, but are actually called primary and partial custody. For example, a custody order may award primary custody to one parent, which often means the child spends most of his time with one parent. This is not always the case, however. In some jurisdictions, a parent may have primary custody yet split parenting time almost equally with the other parent.
The manner in which each type of custody is handled and the treatment of visitation may depend on the particular jurisdiction. Child custody and visitation are typically handled separately, however, and the word visitation is often applied to the schedule on which a parent spends time with his children. For example, a common visitation plan is every other weekend and one mid-week visit with the parent who has been awarded visitation.