Legal custody: "Gives a parent the right to make long-term decisions about the raising of a child, and key aspects of the child’s welfare – including the child’s education, medical care, dental care, and religious instruction. In most child custody cases, legal custody is awarded to both parents (called ‘joint legal custody’), unless it is shown that one parent is somehow unfit, or is incapable of making decisions about the child’s upbringing. Legal custody is different from ‘physical custody,’ which involves issues such as where the child will live."
Physical custody: "A parent who has ‘physical custody’ of a child has the right to provide day-to-day care for the child. The key aspect of physical custody in most child custody situations is that the child will live with the parent who has physical custody. Most modern custody arrangements give physical custody to one parent (called the ‘custodial’ parent) and grant visitation rights and shared ‘legal custody’ to the noncustodial parent. Typically, visitation rights give the non-custodial parent exclusive time with the child every other weekend, alternating major holidays, and a number of weeks during summer vacations.
"In the past, true ‘joint physical custody’ arrangements were more common, in which the child lived with each parent roughly half the time. Today, such arrangements are rare, and in order to lessen disruption of the child’s routine, one parent is usually given primary physical custody of the child."
Sole Custody: "A parent with ‘sole custody’ of a child has exclusive physical and legal custody rights concerning the child. Sole custody arrangements are rare, and are usually limited to situations in which one parent has been deemed unfit or incapable of having any form of responsibility over a child – for example, due to drug addiction or evidence of child abuse. In sole custody situations, the child’s other parent (also known as the ‘noncustodial’ parent) has neither physical nor legal custody rights, but may be entitled to periods of visitation with the child (though those visits may be supervised, especially in situations involving domestic violence or child abuse)."
Joint Custody, sometimes referred to as shared custody or shared parenting, has two parts: joint legal custody and joint physical custody. A joint custody order can have one or both parts: "In child custody situations, ‘joint custody’ usually refers to one of two possible scenarios: joint legal and physical custody, or joint legal custody.
"In true ‘joint custody’ arrangements, parents share equal ‘legal custody’ and ‘physical custody’ rights. This means that parents participate equally in making decisions about the child’s upbringing and welfare, and split time evenly in having day-to-day care and responsibility for the child – including the parent’s right to have the child live with them. True joint custody arrangements are rare, because of their potential to cause both personal difficulties (stress, disruption of child’s routine) and practical problems (scheduling, costs of maintaining two permanent living spaces for the child).
"Much more common than true joint custody arrangements (where both physical and legal custody are shared) is ‘joint legal custody,’ in which both parents share the right to make long-term decisions about the raising of a child and key aspects of the child’s welfare, with physical custody awarded to one parent."
Joint legal custody: "Joint legal custody refers to both parents sharing in major decisions affecting the child. The custody order may describe the issues on which the parents must share decisions. The most common issues are school, health care and religious training (although both parents have a right to expose the child to their respective religious beliefs). Other issues on which the parents may make joint decisions include: extra-curricular activities, summer camp, age for dating or driving and methods of discipline.
"Many joint custody orders specify procedures parents should follow in the event they cannot agree on an issue. The most common procedure is for the parents to consult a mediator. …
" ‘Joint physical custody’ refers to the time the child spends with each parent. The amount of time is flexible. The length of time could be relatively moderate, such as every other weekend with one parent; or the amount of time could be equally divided between the parents. Parents who opt for equal time-sharing have come up with many alternatives such as: alternate two-day periods; equal division of the week; alternate weeks; alternate months; and alternate six month periods."
Sources: ClarionLedger.com and Florida Divorce Law Blog