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Understanding legal and physical custody

On Behalf of | Dec 29, 2023 | Child Custody

When parents divorce, one of the major things that needs to be discussed is child custody arrangements. Child custody determines each parent’s legal and physical rights over their children. 

Legal custody is a parent’s right to decide how their children are raised. For example, the parent with legal custody could decide whether their children go to private or public school, if they see a therapist or get medical treatment for a disability or if they have a religious upbringing or join a sport.

Physical custody is a parent’s responsibility to provide a home to their children and uphold their daily routine. A child’s daily routine can include where they live, when they’re fed or put to bed or how they’re clothed. 

Legal and physical custody are often decided depending on the custody arrangement. Parents may be given a joint or sole custody arrangement. Here’s what you should understand about each:

Joint custody vs. sole custody

Parents can share legal and physical custody in a joint custody arrangement. Many courts believe that it’s in a child’s best interests to have parents share custody. Joint custody often means that both parents make major and minor decisions for their children together. 

Joint custody also means that parents may need to work out a daily schedule for their children. On some days, weeks or months, one parent is raising their children and the other parent is given opposite dates. This can help split the responsibility of parents and give children time with both.

Some parents are not fit to raise children. Child custody may be given to one parent having sole custody. The parent with sole custody often has full control to decide a child’s upbringing and responsibility to home and care for them. The other parent may be given some visitation rights.

Knowing what’s best for children isn’t easy for parents and courts. Parents often seek legal help as they discuss their child custody options.