The custody of a child is divided into two categories: physical and legal. The physical custody of a child is the actual possession or control of the child. Legal custody of a child is the right to make major decisions affecting the best interests of the child, including medical, religious and educational decisions.
The court's decisions over the custody of children are governed by the "best interests of the child" standard. In the event that parents realize that they need to live seperately, they may seek an Order of Custody to document their agreed upon periods of custody. This may be done with the filing of a Custody Complaint and the entrance into an agreement called a Stipulation.
Often times however, parents are not able to agree upon a custodial arrangement. When this occurs, a custody complaint is filed and a formal court process begins. Within 45 days of the service of the custody complaint, the parents are brought before an administrative judge called a Conciliator. This process will often occur in a setting which is less formal than a courtroom and may even be held in a conference room. It is the Conciliator's role to attempt to reach an amicable resolution and encourage the parties to enter into an agreement.
Should the parties be unable to reach an agreement, a custody trial will be held within 180 days of the service of the custody complaint.
Grandparents are also permitted to seek custody of their grandchildren in three very narrow circumstances: the child's parents are divorced the child's parent has died or the child has resided with the grandparent for a period of twelve (12) months.