There are two types of child custody under Mississippi law: legal and physical. Legal Custody refers to a parent's authority to make decisions relating to the child's health, education, and welfare. Physical Custody refers to the right to have the child reside with or be under the care of one of the parents.
Joint Versus Sole Custody
Within the framework of those two types of custody, there is also the choice between joint or sole custody. There are various custody configurations that families can use after a divorce; ideally, parents will agree on which is best, but if they can't, a court will decide which is most appropriate, based on a determination of what is in the child's best interests. A few of the more common arrangements include the following:
- Joint legal and physical custody where parents share decision-making responsibility and have equal (or close to equal) parenting time with their children.
- Joint legal custody with one parent having sole physical custody and the other having the right to regular visitation (eg., alternating weekends, summers, some holidays).
- Sole legal and physical custody to one parent, with the other parent having the right to regular visitation (eg., alternating weekends, summers, some holidays).
For a complete list of the various custody arrangements allowed in Mississippi, see Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-24.
Judges don't typically order sole legal custody and joint physical custody, because if parents can cooperate well enough to share physical custody, then they are usually able to share decision-making responsibility as well.
When a court orders joint physical custody, each parent is entitled to significant periods of physical custody, so that the child is assured of having frequent and continuing contact with both parents. When the court orders joint legal custody, the parents must make decisions together about important issues and exchange information concerning the child's health, education, and welfare.
But, even if a court grants only one parent sole legal custody, with visitation rights to the other, both parents will continue to have access to information about their child. Access to records and information pertaining to a minor child (including medical, dental, and school records) must not be denied to a non-custodial parent, unless the non-custodial parent's rights have been terminated by adoption or a termination of parental rights proceeding.
Factors in Determining Custody
When making decisions about what custody arrangement is in a child's best interests and will most protect the child's welfare, the court may consider any relevant information, including, but certainly not limited to, the following factors:
- the age, health, and sex of the child
- the continuity of care prior to the separation
- the parenting skills and willingness and capacity to provide primary child care
- each parent's employment and responsibilities of that employment
- each parent's age and physical and mental health
- emotional ties between the parent and child
- moral fitness of the parents
- the child's ties to home, school, and community
- the child's preference, if the child is of a sufficient age to express a mature preference
- the stability of each parent's home environment, and
- any other factors the court believes are relevant to the parent-child relationship.
See Mississippi Divorce & Family Laws for information on child custody and related laws.
See Albright v. Albright, (1983) 437 So.2d 1003 (for a discussion of the "best interests of the child" standard in Mississippi).
For more information on how custody orders are made, see Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-24