Mommy Katie: What are the differences between physical and legal custody?

Monday, April 6, 2015

What are the differences between physical and legal custody?

Child custody can be a confusing topic, especially if you’re unfamiliar with all the possible outcomes. When parents go to court for custody, they usually don’t realize the different outcomes that the court can assign.

Back in the day, most divorces ended with the mother getting custody of the child and the father seeing the child on every other weekend. But times have changed, and courts have realized that this dated process is not always the right solution. Instead, there are a variety of different custody arrangements that can be made, and the following depicts the difference between physical and legal custody.

Physical Custody
Every state has different laws regarding custody, but the terminology is the same. When a parent is awarded physical custody of a child, it means that the child will live with that parent, and that parent will be responsible for the daily caretaking of the child.

When a parent is awarded physical custody of a child, the other parent (the noncustodial parent) is often given visitation rights. While these can vary by state and by case, the typical standard is that the noncustodial parent gets visitation rights every other weekend. However, the visitation can be more depending on your current situation. Keep in mind that fathers sometimes need to establishpaternity through a DNA test before child custody can be established.

Legal Custody

When a parent is awarded legal custody of the child, it means that this parent can make the decisions as to which school the child attends, which religion they are taught, and when they receive medical care.

In some cases, the court will give sole legal custody to one parent, which means that the noncustodial parent will have absolutely no say in how the child is raised. In many cases, though, the court will award joint legal custody to both parents, which means that both parents will need to be involved with and in agreement with the upbringing of the child. This means that one parent cannot decide to raise the child as a Catholic without the other parent’s consent.

Sole Custody
In some cases, the court provides sole legal and physical custody of the child to one parent. This isn’t the industry standard like it used to be, but it is still possible for a parent to get sole custody. In most cases, the other parent will need to be unfit as a parent. Drug or alcohol abuse, physical abuse, or incarceration can be signs of an unfit parent.

When a parent is awarded sole physical and legal custody of the child, that parent is legally responsible for the child and doesn’t need the other parent’s consent to make upbringing decisions.

Every state and every case regarding child custody is different, and there’s no way to determine what type of custody you and your ex will receive. If you are currently going through a divorce or child custody case, it’s always best to consult with a professional. He or she will be able to determine what you can expect based on your case, and they will also work hard to help you try to get what you want, whether legal, physical, or sole custody of your child.

This article crafted and delivered by NationalFamilySolutions.
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