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Understanding legal and physical child custody

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2022 | Child Custody |

When you split up from your spouse, there are important decisions to make regarding what your relationship with your children will look like in the future. Child custody refers to your rights and responsibilities as a parent.

There are two different types of child custody, legal and physical custody, and your divorce agreement has to include provisions for each. FindLaw explains the differences between the two.

Legal custody

Legal custody refers to your right and responsibility as a parent to make important decisions on behalf of your minor child. Examples of decisions you have the right to make for your child if the court grants you legal custody include the following:

  • What religion, if any, your child will practice
  • Where your child will go to school
  • What health care and medical treatment your child will receive

Physical custody

Physical custody may be what you think of when you hear the term “child custody.” It refers to where your child primarily lives. If one parent has custody, the child spends most of his or her time living with that parent. If both parents have custody, the child divides his or her time between parents roughly equally.

Both legal custody and physical custody can be joint, meaning that you and your ex-spouse share the responsibilities more or less equally, or sole, meaning that one parent bears all or most of the responsibility. Traditionally, it has been common for both parents to share joint legal custody and for one parent to have sole physical custody, with the other gaining visitation rights to spend time with the child on a limited basis. However, as more data emerges showing the benefits of joint custody, it is becoming more common.


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