Legal and physical custody are two different legal concepts. Physical custody deals with where the child in question resides, while legal custody determines who gets to make important decisions for the child.
Physical custody is a term used to describe the agreement a parent has that says they have the right to have the child live with them. For instance, if a father has physical custody of a child, that means he has the right to have the child live with him. In situations where joint physical custody is granted, both parents have the right to have the child live with them, and they must agree to a schedule where the child lives with one parent for a certain amount of time and then goes to live with the other parent for a certain amount of time. For example, the child lives with mom during the summer and with dad during the school year. In situations where sole custody is awarded with visitation to the other parent, the child will live with the parent awarded custody and must agree to a visitation schedule for the other parent. In this situation, the child could live with mom but goes to visit dad’s house on the weekends. The child does not live there with her father, but she visits and returns home to mom once the weekend has ended.
Legal custody refers to the person person responsible for legally making decisions about the child’s upbringing. Decisions here include where the child will go to school, what religion they will practice, and what medical care they receive. In most cases, the court will grant joint legal custody, meaning both parents have the right and responsibility to make those decisions. In joint legal custody situations, if one parent does not allow the other parent to take part in such decisions, the excluded parent can take their ex-spouse back to court and ask the judge to enforce the divorce’s custody agreement. In some cases, sole legal custody is preferred and granted, but these situations are rare.
Physical and legal custody are two important aspects of raising children when parents are divorced. It is important that both parents involved understand what these terms are and how they as parents are bound by their custody agreement to their children.