What are the Key Differences Between Legal and Physical Custody?

A custody battle can be a difficult time, a time where you are constantly overwhelmed by new terms and new emotions. Understanding all these terms early on in the process will make the whole thing much less overwhelming. In particular, it is helpful to understand the difference between legal custody and physical custody.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is custody over the major decisions in the child’s life. Major decisions are those that affect the long-term health and wellbeing of the child. Married couples often make agreements about important decisions in their child’s life while they are together, but these can break apart with the relationship. When the parents are no longer acting as a single unit, there may be disagreements about the best course of action for their children’s futures.

As a general rule, judges will prefer to maintain any agreements that were made during the course of the marriage. If one parent has since changed their mind about certain decisions without a compelling reason, then, all other things being equal, judges are likely to rule that the previous agreement should be honored for the sake of consistency and to avoid any potential for important decisions to become bargaining chips.

In many cases, judges will award joint legal custody. Under a joint legal custody arrangement, both parents would have equal say in major decisions. This can be problematic in cases where parents struggle to agree on anything. If there is a deadlock between the parents when making decisions, then the court may have to intervene. If the judge decides that the situation is becoming untenable for everyone involved, they may grant sole legal custody to one parent.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to the day-to-day care of the child. This can be awarded completely separately to legal custody, meaning that the parent the child lives with is not necessarily the parent making the big decisions in the child’s life. Like legal custody, physical custody can be awarded to a single parent or it can be awarded on a joint basis.

In cases of joint custody, the split is not necessarily 50/50. In many cases, parents will make their own arrangements. The court will only set out a mandated division of time if they think that the parents are going to be unable to come to an agreement themselves.

Finding the Right Representation

If you are preparing for a custody battle, then it is important to have appropriate legal representation on your side. A divorce can be a difficult time even when everything does go smoothly. When things are acrimonious and you find yourself having to fight over every detail, the whole process quickly becomes incredibly draining.

Before you hire a lawyer, sit down with them and explain your situation. It is important that you trust your lawyer to help you through this difficult time and that you are clear how much it is going to cost you upfront. You don’t want your legal fees to end up adding to an already stressful situation.

Understanding the difference between legal and physical custody is important when you are working out what it is that you want out of your custody hearing. If you are expecting your ex to get physical custody, the ability to share legal custody with them can help to ease the blow. The more you know before you begin the process, the easier you will find it.

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