What Is The Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody of Children In Divorce?

If you are going through a divorce and children are involved, you and your ex-spouse will need to come together and make child custody decisions. Child custody refers to the rights and obligations that parents have when it comes to caring for their children. It is broken down into two types: physical and legal custody. Both parents tend to have legal custody, but one may not have physical custody, depending on where they live.

This article discusses the differences in types of child custody. If you have questions about child custody issues, speak with an experienced child custody lawyer about what makes sense in your situation.

Legal Custody

When a parent has legal custody, he or she has the right to make decisions that affect the child’s wellbeing. They can make decisions regarding where the child lives and where he or she goes to school. They can also make decisions about medical care and religion.

Since you and your ex-spouse made these decisions together while married, judges like to continue this, even after divorce. Therefore, both parents will likely be involved in the decision making for the children until they reach adulthood. This is called joint legal custody, and this can be a challenge for a couple if they tend to argue over everything. Sometimes courts must step in to settle disputes.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to where the children live on a regular basis. If the parents live close to each other, then the children may live at the homes of both parents, as long as it does not disrupt their daily lives. This is called joint physical custody.

Having physical custody comes with legal issues. For example, if you share custody with the other parent, you cannot simply pack up and move with the kids whenever you want. You must go to court and convince the judge that the move is in the children’s best interest.

If you and the other parent live a great distance away, then one parent will have physical custody and the other will have visitation rights. A visitation schedule can be agreed upon by the parents or the court.

Sole Custody

Judges tend to rule towards joint custody because having both parents involved is typically in the best interests of the children. However, there are cases where one parent’s situation may negatively affect the child and it’s in the child’s best interests to have only one parent involved in his or her life.

A judge may grant sole legal and physical custody in the following instances:

  • The parent is neglectful or abusive toward the child.
  • The parent is incarcerated.
  • The parent abuses drugs or alcohol.
  • The parent simply has no interest in parenting the child.

In this case, the child will live with one parent, and that parent will be solely responsible for making decisions that affect that child’s wellbeing. The other parent can have visitation rights, if he or she still wants to be involved in the child’s life to some degree.

If you have questions about child custody, give us a call today to set up a consultation with a Pennsylvania divorce attorney today.