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.
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:
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.
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:
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