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Legal Custody v. Physical Custody of Children

By Ullian Associates of The Law Firm of Ullian & Associates, P.C. on April 30, 2015

Legal custody determines which parent has legal authority over a child. It means that parent has decision-making authority over the child's educational, financial, and medical decisions. This parent, for example, can decide what religion the child practices, how to spend their money, and made medical decisions. In most cases, parents have joint legal custody of their children. That means both parties make educational and medical decisions. Sole legal custody typically occurs only in limited situations such as when both parents are unable to communicate effectively, a parent has a serious drug or alcohol problem, or one when a parent is not involved.

Physical custody refers to the parent who has the child in his/her care and makes the day-to-day decisions. There are two common physical custody scenarios. The first situation is one parent is the primary parent and has the child the majority of the time. The other parent would have a parenting plan which would outline his/her time with the child, such as nights or weekends. The second scenario is joint physical custody, in which each parent has the child approximately half of the time. This arrangement can work when the parents have effective communication skills with each other, they live close together, and the child can handle transitioning back and forth frequently.

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