I will answer your question according to the law of the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah).
In a family law context, a custody order is an order of the court awarding certain custodial rights to a child on a temporary or permanent basis. There are two types of child custody: physical custody and legal custody. They are not the same thing.
An old (and no longer existent) Utah Code section defined “legal custody” as:
“(a) the right to physical custody of a child; (b) the right and duty to protect, train, and discipline him; (c) the duty to provide him with food, clothing, shelter, education, and ordinary medical care; (d) the right to determine where and with whom he shall live; and (e) the right, in an emergency, to authorize surgery or other extraordinary care.”
(U.C.A., 1953, as amended, § 78-3a-2(14) (1994)
In the jurisdiction where I practice divorce and family law (Utah), “legal custody” and “physical custody” are not defined by statute in the divorce section of the Utah Code, while “joint” legal and “joint” physical custody are defined. Those definitions are:
Joint legal custody and joint physical custody are defined by Utah Code § as follows:
(2) “Joint legal custody”:
(a) means the sharing of the rights, privileges, duties, and powers of a parent by both parents, where specified;
(b) may include an award of exclusive authority by the court to one parent to make specific decisions;
(c) does not affect the physical custody of the child except as specified in the order of joint legal custody;
(d) is not based on awarding equal or nearly equal periods of physical custody of and access to the child to each of the parents, as the best interest of the child often requires that a primary physical residence for the child be designated; and
(e) does not prohibit the court from specifying one parent as the primary caretaker and one home as the primary residence of the child.
(3) “Joint physical custody”:
(a) means the child stays with each parent overnight for more than 30% of the year, and both parents contribute to the expenses of the child in addition to paying child support;
(b) can mean equal or nearly equal periods of physical custody of and access to the child by each of the parents, as required to meet the best interest of the child;
(c) may require that a primary physical residence for the child be designated; and
(d) does not prohibit the court from specifying one parent as the primary caretaker and one home as the primary residence of the child.
The Utah Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (found at Title 78B, Chapter 13) defines “physical custody” thusly:
(14) “Physical custody” means the physical care and supervision of a child.
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