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How are legal and physical custody different? 

On Behalf of | May 9, 2024 | Custody & Visitation |

When parents get divorced, they need to take steps to divide custody of their children. Odds are that both parents have a right to custody, but they’re going to have to split it up as they become co-parents after the divorce.

When many people talk about custody, they do not make a distinction regarding the type of custody that they mean. They are probably thinking mostly about physical custody. But the truth is that there are both physical and legal custody considerations.

Physical custody

To begin with, physical custody refers to where the child lives and who they are with at that time. If this custody has been split between two parents, they may each have the child every other week, for example. 

But there are also situations where the child lives with one parent most of the time and the other parent sees them on the weekends or has visitation rights. Overall, physical custody refers to the parenting time that each person spends with their child.

Legal custody

Legal custody, on the other hand, refers to who has the power to make key decisions. Who will be the child’s doctor and what medical treatments or vaccines will they get? Where is the child going to go to school? Is the child going to be raised within a specific religion? 

These are all questions that married parents have to answer together, and legal custody determines who gets to answer them after a divorce. This legal custody could be split between both parents so that they have to agree or find a compromise — or one parent could have legal custody while the other does not. 

The custody division process can get complicated, so it’s very important for parents to know what options they have.