Legal custody vs. physical custody

On Behalf of | Sep 13, 2023 | Family Law |

The Institute for Family Studies reported in 2018, there were 2.6 million custodial fathers and 10.3 custodial mothers. These figures represent parents who likely have some type of custody arrangement.

One area of child custody that every parent should understand is the distinction between physical and legal custody. These are two separate aspects of custody arrangements that carry different responsibilities and implications for both parents and children.

Physical custody explained

Physical custody pertains to where a child resides on a day-to-day basis. The parent who has physical custody is responsible for providing a home and meeting the child’s daily needs, such as food, clothing and shelter.

In some cases, parents may share joint physical custody, which means the child spends substantial time living with both parents. Alternatively, one parent may have primary physical custody, while the other has visitation rights or parenting time.

Legal custody defined

Legal custody relates to decision-making authority regarding the child’s upbringing. A parent with legal custody has the right and responsibility to make important decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions can encompass matters such as education, healthcare, religious upbringing and extracurricular activities.

Similar to the arrangements for physical custody, the responsibility of legal custody can be solely on one parent or shared jointly.

A court may grant joint legal custody while designating one parent as the primary physical custodian. Conversely, parents with joint physical custody may not necessarily share joint legal custody. The specific custody arrangement will depend on what is in the best interests of the child.