The Difference Between Legal and Physical Child Custody

28 Mar The Difference Between Legal and Physical Child Custody

Divorce is rarely an easy matter and is particularly difficult when children are involved. In some cases, the two separating parents come to an amicable arrangement which satisfies both them individually and their children’s interests as well. This is by far the best solution. However, it is recognized that the very reason why a divorce is taking place can make it difficult for the two parents to come to a satisfactory agreement about anything, or at least how their children should be cared for. That’s when a Family Law Court and a family law attorney can help to resolve the differences in the best interests of the children.

In California, there is a difference between the legal custody of the children of divorcing parents and their physical custody. The differences may seem difficult to clarify for parents and in fact there is quite a lot of overlap between them. Nevertheless it is important for parents going through a divorce to establish what these terms mean because the question of custodial arrangements will come up when the case is heard in court.

Legal and physical custody

The key difference between legal and physical custody is that legal custody refers to the critical decisions made about a child during the period of his or her dependent life. One or both parents may be granted legal custody of their children.

Physical custody refers to the physical living arrangements of the children after divorce. Again, both parents or just one may be awarded physical custody.

The distinction between joint and sole legal and physical custody means that there are several different combinations. The final deliberation will always be determined in the best interests of the children and not the convenience of either or both parents.

Legal custody in more detail

The parent or parents that have been granted legal custody are given the power to make essential decisions about a child’s life. This includes such things as:

  • how they are educated;
  • where they are housed;
  • how they receive medical treatment;
  • what religious influence they have.

Joint legal custody or shared legal custody means that both parents must cooperate on making these essential decisions. It doesn’t mean that every single decision is made together, but if an important decision is made by one parent alone, yet the legal custody arrangement is a joint one, then the parent who has sidestepped this ruling may be penalized. Joint legal custody is the preferred option for a Family Law Court, but it is realized that this level of cooperation may not be realistic.

Sole legal custody means that one parent or the other has the right to make all essential decisions as listed above. It may be that the other parent is judged to be incapable of  making any useful decisions for one reason or another, maybe because they are an alcoholic, or suffer from a mental disorder that prevents them from making a sound decision.

Physical custody in more detail

Physical custody involves the actual physical living arrangements of the child(ren) of a divorced couple. Who will the child(ren) live with? Like legal custody, this can be granted to both parents or just one of them.

A shared or joint physical custody arrangement, like joint legal custody, is the preferred choice of the court. It means that the child(ren) will live for part of the time with one parent, and the rest of the time with the other.

Sole physical custody means that only one parent will have the responsibility of caring for the child(ren) even though the other parent may have joint legal custody and will have visitation rights.

Sole physical custody may be granted if the other parent decides to live far away from the other parent and effectively be unable to look after the child(ren) in his or her own new home.

Making decisions about your joint children if you are going through a divorce is one of the most important aspects of the divorce process and often the most difficult. It is advisable to share your ideas with an experienced Long Beach  & Lakewood CA divorce attorney who can provide advice, make sure you have adequate and appropriate documentation to support your custody preferences and negotiate on your behalf

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