Legal Child Custody vs. Physical Child Custody: What’s the Difference?

If you are a parent going through a divorce, understanding the building blocks of legal and physical child custody is important. This is true whether you’re navigating the world of child custody for the first time, or someone seeking to better understand the law.

Take the time to learn about the different types of custody. Doing so will help anyone involved in a family law dispute. It can ensure that they have a greater chance of achieving an optimal result.

Here is a broad overview of how child custody works, defining both types of custody and offering tips for co-parents.

Definitions of Legal and Physical Child Custody

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions on the child’s behalf. These decisions can include:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Mental Health

Parents can also include other concerns in their parenting plan, such as decisions over entertainment choices, religious upbringing, and so on.

Regardless of who has power over these decisions, both parents have the right to access all information regarding the child. Parents can lose these rights only if the court deems them unfit, or a danger to the child.

Courts may also award joint or sole legal custody. Joint legal custody guarantees both parents receive input in making decisions for their child. Sole legal custody gives only one parent full decision-making authority.

Physical custody determines which parent lives with the children. It is not the same as visitation rights. Visitation is a scheduled time when one parent sees the children, sometimes alone, but then returns them. Custody is having the children live with you for an extended period. Even if you have the kids for only one weekend a month, you still technically share joint physical custody.

Parents can have sole possession and decision-making, or they can share. For instance, one parent may have power over healthcare, but the other has authority over education. Perhaps they share authority over all decisions, but only one has final say. There are almost limitless combinations of joint custody, both legal and physical.

Roles And Responsibilities of Child Custody

  • Ensure the child’s safety
  • Monitor the child’s academic progress
  • Provide a safe and nurturing home environment
  • Fulfill the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs of the child

Either legal or physical custody can meet these demands. For example, one parent can provide a safe home environment while the other manages all educational concerns.

Tips for Negotiating Child Custody Terms

Focus on What's Best for Your Children

When negotiating child custody terms, put your feelings aside. Always keep your child’s best interests front and center. Consider factors such as their age, school schedule, extracurricular activities, and relationship with each parent. Then contemplate each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs.

Be Open to Compromise

Always prepare to listen to the other parent's concerns, and find creative solutions that work for everyone involved.

Keep Lines of Communication Open

Effective communication is key when negotiating child custody terms. Try to maintain an open dialogue with the other parent throughout the negotiation process and after you reach an agreement.

Seek Professional Help When Necessary

Mental health professionals such as child psychologists can help guide your decisions.

If you're struggling to reach an agreement with the other parent, or if there are complex legal issues involved, consider attending mediation.

If you need help reaching a fair, reasonable child custody arrangement, Law Office of Pamela C. Bratcher is here to help. For a free consultation, call us at (270) 977-8910 or contact us online.