What Should You Know About the Difference Between Legal and Physical Child Custody?

child custody gavel
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While divorce always affects children, there are steps you can take to reduce the impact. Understanding different types of custody and their implications for your family is the first step to making good decisions for your children during and after divorce.

Physical Custody

In most cases, judges award joint physical custody, so children spend time living with both parents. The custody timeshare between the parents is often determined based on factor such a work schedules and which parent has been more active in raising the children. In cases where there has been physical, emotional or substance abuse, a judge may not award joint custody, and one parent will have sole or primary physical custody and the other parent will generally have visitation rights. In some cases, that visitation may be supervised by a professional or other mutually agreed upon adult.

If you are going to share joint physical custody with your ex-spouse, you can choose an arrangement that works best for you and your family. If you live near your ex-spouse, you might alternate weeks or weekends with the children. If you don’t live near your ex-spouse, the children might live with each of you for half the year. Judges are generally willing to work with families to develop a physical custody agreement that complements each family’s situation.

Joint physical custody offers a number of benefits for children. By spending time with both parents, children are more likely to get the emotional support they need. A routine that regularly involves both parents allows children’s lives to retain at least some degree of normality soon after the divorce is final. Unfortunately, there are instances in which joint custody is not possible, such as when one parent has been deemed unfit, is abusive, or lives very far away.

Legal Custody

If you have legal custody of your children, you can make decisions for them, such as where they will go to school, whether they will attend religious services, and medical treatments. Judges generally try to encourage co-parenting by giving both parents legal custody even if they don’t share physical custody. But, sole legal custody can be ordered when one parent has not acted in the children’s best interest.

Managing Custody

Once a judge has awarded custody in your case, you should abide by the custody agreement and go through the court if you need to change it. If you don’t abide by your custody agreement, your ex-spouse can take you to court and ask the judge to enforce the agreement. The judge could also revise the agreement. On the other hand, if your former spouse violates your custody agreement, keep track of the violations so you can seek court agreement enforcement.

Using an Attorney

Remember that your family law attorney can help you navigate and appeal physical and legal custody agreements. Whether you’re not happy with your custody agreement or your ex isn’t abiding by it, your lawyer can give you pointers about keeping documentation and getting the courts involved.

If you’re working to establish a custody agreement or don’t feel your current agreement is fair, you should contact a family law attorney as soon as possible to learn about your options under the law.

Getting a divorce will affect your children, but the effect doesn’t have to be negative. If you and your ex-spouse can abide by your physical and legal custody agreements, working together in the best interests of your children, you can minimize the negative impact.



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