“Sole” or “primary” residential custody can mean something very different to a particular parent. “Residential custody”, also referred to as “physical custody”, refers to where a child sleeps overnight. A parent has “residential custody” when their child sleeps at his/her house overnight, even though the child may have spent the entire day with the other parent. Residential custody should be thought of as a parenting plan agreed to by both parents, or imposed by a judge, which describes where a child sleeps.
“Joint custody” is made up of two separate pieces: (1) a nearly equal division of residential custody, and (2) joint legal custody. The first piece, residential custody may, does not always, mean that a child spends equal overnights with both parents. Joint custody always does mean that the parent whom the child is with, has right and obligation to provide a home for that child and to make the day-to-day decisions that are necessary when the child is in his/her custody. The second piece, “joint legal custody”, always does mean that both parents have the exact equal obligation and authority to make long range decisions about education, religious training, discipline, medical care, and other matters of major significance for a child’s life and welfare. When parents have joint legal custody, neither parent’s rights are superior to the other.
“Shared custody” is a numerical analysis Maryland law uses only for child support purposes. Parents have “shared custody” when one of them has a child in his/her residential custody for 35% or more of the overnights in a 365 day period. When “shared custody” exists, the amount of child support paid is substantially reduced in most circumstances. The reasoning is that because the party who is required to pay child support has the child with them overnight frequently enough, that they are paying for more of the child’s needs while in their own home. So they need not pay as much child support over to the other parent.