What is custody?
Custody is the legal responsibility for the care and control of your child who is under 18 years of age. The court may give custody of your child to one or both parents. There are two types of custody: legal and physical.
Physical custody refers to the periods of time when one parent is responsible for care of the child.1
Legal custody means decision-making rights and responsibilities related to the child’s health, education, and welfare.2
1 Miss. Code § 93-5-24(5)(b)
2 Miss. Code § 93-5-24(5)(d)
What custody options are there?
After considering the best interest of the child, the judge can order any of the following custody arrangements or a combination thereof:
- Joint physical custody, where each parent has regular and continuing contact with the child and a significant period of time when the child is in his/her care.1
- Joint legal custody, where both parents share decision-making rights and responsibilities regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child. A joint legal custody order also requires that you and the other parent consult before making decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child.2
- Joint physical and legal custody, where parents share both the care of the child as well as decision-making rights.3
- Sole physical custody, where the child lives the majority of the time with one parent but can have visitation with the other.
- Sole legal custody, where only one parent has decision-making rights and responsibilities regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child.4
1Miss. Code § 93-5-24(5)(c), (1)(b)
2Miss. Code § 93-5-24(5)(e), (1)(c)
3Miss. Code § 93-5-24(1)(a)
4Miss. Code § 93-5-24(1)(d)
How is paternity established?
There are multiple ways that paternity (legal fatherhood) can be established in Mississippi:
- If parents were married to each other when the child was conceived or born, paternity is automatically established for the husband.
- If parents were not married to each other when the child was conceived or born, then they need to do something to establish paternity. This can be done:
- involuntarily - one of the parents asks the local family court to establish paternity, usually through DNA testing;1 or
- voluntarily - both parents agree to who the father of the child is. This can be done through a sworn acknowledgement of paternity:
- at the hospital or birthing center; or
- at the Bureau of Vital Statistics of the Mississippi State Department of Health.2
1 Miss. Code § 93-9-21
2 Miss. Code § 93-9-28(1), (4)
What are some of the pros and cons of getting a custody order?
Some people decide not to get a custody order because they don’t want to get the courts involved. They may have an informal agreement that works well for them or may think going to court will provoke the other parent. However, getting a custody order can give you the legal right to make decisions about your child and the right to have your child live with you.
If you decide not to get a custody order, then you and the other parent likely have equal rights to making decisions and living arrangements. The exception to this is when paternity has not been legally established. To learn about establishing paternity in Mississippi, you can look at the question How is paternity established?