What is Child Custody?

Legal Definition
Child custody and legal guardianship are legal terms which are used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child, such as the right of the child to make decisions and the parent's duty to care for the child.

Following ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in most countries, terms such as "residence" and "contact" (known as "visitation" in the United States) have superseded the concepts of "custody" and "access". Instead of a parent having "custody" of or "access" to a child, a child is now said to "reside" or have "contact" with a parent. For a discussion of the new international nomenclature, see parental responsibility.

Residence and contact issues typically arise in proceedings involving divorce (dissolution of marriage), annulment, and other legal proceedings where children may be involved. In most jurisdictions the issue of which parent the child will reside with is determined in accordance with the best interests of the child standard.

Family law proceedings which involve issues of residence and contact often generate the most acrimonious disputes. While most parents cooperate when it comes to sharing their children and resort to mediation to settle a dispute, not all do. For those that engage in litigation, there seem to be few limits. Court filings quickly fill with mutual accusations by one parent against the other, including sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, brain-washing, parental alienation syndrome, sabotage, and manipulation. Custody battles are not in the child's best interest and are often used by an angry parent in order to control his/her former partner. Custody courts tell abuse victims not to report their abuse, and force contact with deadbeat parents, abusive parents and uninvolved parents under the guise of children's interest. The amount of money the court generates for attorneys is not known.

Forum shopping to gain advantage occurs both between nations and where laws and practices differ between areas within a nation, The Hague Convention seeks to avoid this, also in the United States of America, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act was adopted by all 50 states, family law courts were forced to defer jurisdiction to the home state.

In some places, courts and legal professionals are beginning to use the term parenting schedule instead of custody and visitation. The new terminology eliminates the distinction between custodial and noncustodial parents, and also attempts to build upon the best interests of the children by crafting schedules that meet the developmental needs of the children. For example, younger children need shorter, more frequent time with parents, whereas older children and teenagers may demand less frequent shifts yet longer blocks of time with each parent.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
the term applied to the support and control of a child that is determined by the court when the parents of the child are divorced or separated.