What Is The Difference Between Legal Custody And Physical Custody?

One of the most highly contested aspect of any divorce is the matter of custody.

Families vary greatly in form and function. What is right for one child / parent relationship might not be right for another.

With this in mind, there are various types of custody. Many are familiar with the terms “sole custody” and “joint custody,” but what do these terms mean? Does the parent have “legal custody” or “physical custody” or both? What is the difference between the two?

Legal Custody

Legal custody of a child means the parent has the right and the obligation to make decisions about the child’s upbringing; these decisions can include schooling, religious upbringing, and medical care.

Legal custody allows the parent to make any and all decisions as to how their children will be raised. Many states, including California, often award joint legal custody.

Physical Custody

Physical custody means the parent has the right to have a child live with him or her and have control over the day-to-day activities of the child. This also designates the physical residence of the child.

In many states, including California, it is possible to have sole or joint physical custody. Sole physical custody means that the child lives primarily with one parent; the other parent may have rights to visitation or parenting time with his or her child.

In California, noncustodial parents will generally be granted visitation rights, unless it is shown that visitation would be detrimental to the child.

Joint physical custody means the child lives with both parents. Since it is almost impossible to split time evenly between parents, the parent that has the child more than half of the time is referred to as the “primary custodial parent”.

Combining Legal & Physical Custody

A parent who is awarded sole legal and physical custody has the right to make decisions about their child’s upbringing, and the child resides with them.

This parent isn’t obligated to seek the approval of the other parent prior to making a decision about their child’s schools, medical treatment, or living arrangements.

In cases of joint physical custody, there is often joint legal custody. Parents are responsible for making decisions regarding the child together. Schools, health matters, and other important issues must be decided upon together, with the best interest of the child in mind at all times.

It is possible to have joint legal custody with sole physical custody.

In these instances, despite one parent having sole physical custody, it is the responsibility of both parents to make legal decisions for their child.

This shared legal custody can cause challenges if the parents disagree on fundamental aspects such as religious instruction or medical treatments. Generally, with joint legal custody it is not required that both parents agree on every decision; both parents have the right to make decisions and either parent can make a decision alone. However, it is important that both parents communicate these decisions and cooperate in order to avoid future court battles.

In reality, the decisions of the custodial parent usually prevail. Parents may include in the custody order specific circumstances that will require the consent of both parents and consequences if mutual consent is not obtained. However, to be workable, these circumstances should be extremely significant and rare.

Fighting For Your Custodial Rights

In California, every contested custody and visitation case must go through a mandatory court mediation process. For assistance with your child custody case, contact the Shoreline Legal Group LLP where we’re simplifying the legal process step by step. With affordable options and success in helping previous clients with their child custody cases, you can depend on the Shoreline Group for your Family Law limited scope representation needs. Serving Long Beach, Cerritos, Santa Ana, and Orange, CA as well as surrounding areas.