What is the Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody?

There are a lot of terms thrown around in custody cases that can be difficult to understand completely. Most of the time, when people hear the word custody, they think it means where the child lives or who gets to be in charge of the child.

In this blog, we’d like to take the time to point out some key terms you need to understand if you are thinking about filing for custody. Of course, if you have any further questions, it’s best to consult with an attorney.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to where the child is going to live. With physical custody, it is unlikely that the child will spend exactly 50% of their time with each parent, unless there is a request for joint physical custody. Instead, the court looks at the best interests of the child in determining where they will reside.

The court looks at many factors when deciding physical custody. The judge will want to know about each parent’s ability to safely and consistently care for the child, how much the parents cooperate, and what the parents think is the best arrangement. The court also, especially with older children (i.e. teenagers), will take into account the child’s own wishes for where they want to live.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to who has responsibility for major decision making in a child’s life. Major decisions can include items such as healthcare, education, or religion, but can also include diet, social activities, and discipline.

While the parent who has legal custody can involve the other parent if they choose in the decision making process, they ultimately have the final say.

Sole vs. Joint Custody

If a parent is awarded sole custody (also interchanged with primary custody), they have both physical and legal custody of the child. However, just because a parent is awarded sole physical custody does not mean that the parents can’t both be awarded joint legal custody and that the non-custodial parent or secondary physical custodian is not entitled to parenting time with the child. No matter the declaration of custodial or non custodial both parents are typically always entitled to access important records of the child.

In a joint physical custody decision, parents split the physical custody.  It is possible that one parent might have the child more than the other, depending on the needs of the child. For example, one parent may have the child during the school year, while the other parent has the child during holidays and breaks.

In a joint legal custody decision, both parents share the right to make decisions on behalf of the minor child. When the Court awards joint legal custody, they must declare one of the parents as the “tie breaker” if the parents cannot reach a mutual decision. There are four major areas of legal custody: religion, non emergency medical, extracurricular and education. The court may split the four areas and give each parent “tie breaking” authority of two areas, or the court may order that one parent is the tie-breaker for all four areas.

With joint physical or joint legal custody, it is essential that the parents are able to compromise and work out issues between themselves. This is also essential when one parent has primary custody and the other is the secondary. Being able to effectively co-parent your children is beneficial to their mental state, overall happiness and contentment.

A Caring Attorney Is Your Best Option

Custody cases can become complicated. There are so many details to be worked out when it comes to the children. That’s the main reason why you need an experienced, competent family attorney by your side to help navigate through these waters.

If you are in Fayette, Henry, or any other metro Atlanta county, Family Matters Law Group would like to help you with your custody case. We have years of experience dealing with some very difficult divorce and custody cases. Let us help fight for you. Use our online contact form and we’ll connect you with a caring attorney who can answer all your questions.

There’s a big difference between legal and physical custody. Don’t take this battle on yourself. Family Matters Law Group stands ready to help.