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What Is The Difference Between Legal And Physical Custody?

Divorce is a sensitive topic that affects everyone involved in it, the process itself is pretty lengthy on its own and it can be prolonged should there be a misunderstanding amongst the terminology used. When children are involved in the process “custody” is a word you will come across several times but, are you aware of the differences between legal custody and physical custody? Many believe that these terms are interchangeable when in reality, one of these gives you the ability to make important decisions for the child, while the other determines where the child resides.

Legal Custody

Legal Custody refers to having authority to make decisions based off of how the child or children will be raised; what school they will attend, what religion they’ll practice, healthcare, etc. When it comes to emergency situations, legal custody grants you the right to decide the course(s) of action. Any part of a child’s welfare must be decided by the parent or parents awarded legal custody by the court. Although most cases result in both parents being awarded joint legal custody, allowing them both to have a say in decisions for their children, there are some cases that result in one parent being seen as “unfit” thus leaving the other parent with sole legal custody.

Physical Custody

Physical Custody refers to where a child will physically live on a day-to-day basis. Many factors are taken into consideration when it comes to deciding where a child will be given the best living arrangement. When one parent is awarded sole custody of a child, the other may be granted visitation, unless the non-custodial parent suffers from substance abuse or has a history of domestic violence that can be seen as a threat to the child’s safety and well-being. Should both parents be awarded joint physical custody, it is required that they come up with an appropriate and fair schedule that explains how much time the child will spend in each household.

Joint Custody

Most courts prefer to award joint custody of a child whenever possible. This allows both parents to have a say in any and all decisions made in their child’s life. Although the parents do not have to consult with one another before making any decisions, depending on the severity of them, they can face serious penalties. Should a life altering decision be made by one parent without notifying the other, that parent can be held in contempt of court and face unfavorable custody decisions. When it comes to join custody, it’s important for both parties to be as respectful and considerate as possible. This makes it easier for both parents to stay in frequent and continuing contact with their children.

Interference from the courts can be avoided if both parties can create a plan for their child that they both find fair. This can be difficult to do during the divorce process but, if possible, should be the first course of action taken before bringing it into a court room.

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