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Legal and Physical Custody: What Is It?

When parents divorce, one of the most vital issues to resolve involves custody of your child or children. It is important to create a custody agreement that works for everyone. The custody agreement can set the stage for a harmonious and productive post-divorce relationship between you, your ex-spouse and your child. If the divorcing parties can agree to a child custody arrangement independently and amicably, the court is more likely to approve the arrangement presuming it is in the child's best interests. For that reason, it's important for divorcing parents to understand exactly what is legal and physical custody.

What Is Legal & Physical Custody?

Legal custody is a parent's legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions would include where and how the child will be educated, what type of religious upbringing they'll have and health care decisions.

Physical custody is defined by where and with whom the child lives the majority of the time.

If a parent is granted sole legal custody, he or she has the exclusive legal authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child. If the court awards joint legal custody, both parents have the legal authority to make those decisions for the child. In many cases, parents can share joint legal custody without having joint physical custody.

What Is Majority Physical Custody?

If a parent is granted majority physical custody, the child will physically reside with that parent most of the time. However, the non-custodial parent will usually be awarded liberal visitation rights, including both phone and physical visit, including sleepovers.

Joint physical custody is also called shared custody, and refers to an arrangement where a child lives with one parent for part of the week or the year, and lives with the other parent during the remaining time.

Typically with joint custody, the amount of time a child spends with each parent is roughly equal, but regardless it involves both parents sharing the legal responsibilities, and the physical care and custody of their child.

There are many types of joint custody arrangements, and a number of factors you need to take into account. Things to consider include the ability of you and your spouse to cooperate well, physical distance, expenses, and your child's preferences and needs.

Because it's essential to come to a custody arrangement that is advantageous for you, your spouse and, above all, your child, it's important to work with an attorney who can help craft an agreement that is both binding and beneficial for all concerned.