Legal & Physical Child Custody
In divorce cases where children are involved, one of the biggest decisions that must be made is which parent will have custody. Decisions about custody are broken down into two elements, legal and physical custody. But what is the difference between legal versus physical custody? In some cases, one parent retains the rights to both, while in other situations the parents may share the responsibility. Here at 1-800-Family-Law, we help you find experienced family law attorneys that can help you navigate the custody process during your divorce.
Legal Child Custody
Legal custody is defined as when a parent is given the right to make decisions regarding the needs of the child. This includes all important aspects of the child’s life, including where they live, go to school, their religious instruction, healthcare, and more. When one parent is given this responsibility, it is called sole legal custody. However, since in most situations both parents prior to the divorce made decisions about the child’s wellbeing, courts prefer to award joint legal custody to parents, meaning that they both get to continue making decisions about the needs of their child, unless the court is given strong evidence to show why one parent is not fit to make those decisions.
Other reasons why a judge may grant one parent sole legal custody is if one parent lives a great distance away, there is a history of abuse or neglect, or if one parent is not involved in the child’s life and does not spend time with the child. A judge may also order sole legal custody if the parents cannot cooperate for simple decisions or if one parent is constantly causing conflict over simple decision-making matters.
Physical Child Custody
Physical custody is defined as where the child lives on a regular basis. Physical custody resides with the custodial parent, and the noncustodial parent can petition the court for visitation rights. If the child spends equal time with both parents, the court may award joint physical custody. It is important to understand the physical custody laws of your state before agreeing to a decision on the physical custody of your child. In some states, if one parent is granted sole physical custody, they may retain the right to move with the child without the noncustodial parent’s agreement.
In recent years, more and more courts are granting joint physical custody to parents, recognizing the importance of having the child spend time with both parents fairly equally. However, joint physical custody does not necessarily mean an equal 50/50 split of time between each parent, although usually the courts try to make it close. Parents must live close enough that the children can move easily between homes without it disrupting their normal routine and get along well enough that the constant contact does not cause conflict. An experienced family law attorney in your area will be able to review the facts of your divorce and advise you on your legal options for legal and physical custody of your child.
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