What’s the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

There’s nothing easy about divorce. For couples with children, the breakup of the family can be especially painful. When children are involved, separating couples are faced with working out a custody arrangement. If you are one of these parents, here are some terms you’ll be kicking around and what they mean.

Physical Custody

When parents want equal time with their child, a joint physical custody is possible. Physical custody, in its simplest term, is where the child will physically live. Both parents have the right to have their child live with them and this arrangement is easier on everyone when both parents continue to live in the same general area. A joint custody agreement can also help ease the child’s concerns when he or she gets equal time with both parents and has the opportunity to develop a fairly normal routine.

If the child is going to live mainly with one parent and visit the other, the parent he lives with is considered the “custodial parent.” He or she will usually have either primary or sole custody, while the other parent, the “non-custodial parent,” has visitation rights and/or parenting time.

Legal Custody

When you have legal custody, it is your right and your duty to make parenting decisions such as which school your child will attend, what religious teaching he will receive and what type of medical care he or she will have. Many states award parents joint legal custody, meaning both parents have an equal say in these decisions.

This is important because if the non-custodial parent is left out of decisions such as these, he or she may seek enforcement of his rights through the court system. If you have questions about custody arrangements, get in touch with Prime Lawyers for help in resolving any issues.

Sole Custody

Courts can rule that a parent is “unfit” to have custody in such instances as parental drug use or physical abuse. In that case, a court can award sole physical custody to the other parent. As they begin to recognize the importance of having both parents involved in the child’s life, however, states are beginning to rethink sole custody arrangements. A court may award sole physical custody to one parent but can allow a joint legal custody so that both parents have a say in the child’s upbringing.

If you’re a parent considering divorce, examine your options and understand what each means when it comes to physical and legal custody. In the end, your custody arrangement will hopefully be made with the child’s best interests at heart.