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Custody Vs. Legal Decision Making: Is The Difference Important?

The divorce process is complicated and child custody is one of the more complex components of it. There is often a lot of unfamiliar legal jargon involved in custody and not everyone understands how to interpret it in a legal context.

Knowing what these different terms mean is important during this process so you know what to expect, especially when your children are involved. The concepts of physical and legal custody are often confusing and unfamiliar. Here’s what you need to know about custody vs. legal decision making.

Physical Custody

When people think of custody they often are actually thinking of physical custody. This type of custody has to do with where your child lives and how the division of physical care is decided. This is where sole and joint custody can come into play most often. Some parents are able to come to an agreement of shared parenting or joint custody, where the child is able to live with both parents for varying periods of time. In other instances, sole physical custody or sole physical custody with visitation may be decided or awarded by a judge.

Legal Custody

This is a more unfamiliar term to most parents. Legal custody deals with decision making power over your child’s upbringing and long-term decisions. Having legal custody means you have the power to make or have a say in certain decisions in your child’s life including:

  • Education
  • Medical decisions
  • Religion
  • Other decisions relating to the child’s welfare

In most custody cases, both parents are awarded legal custody of their children, regardless of physical custody decisions. That means they both have equal say in making these important decisions and must come to agreements when making final choices.

However, in some more serious or extreme cases, a judge may award sole physical and legal custody of a child to one parent, meaning they alone make the decisions in the child’s life and are not obligated to consider the wishes or opinions of the other parent.

It’s important to understand these two concepts regarding custody so you are aware of what to expect when these topics are discussed. Physical and legal custody may sound as if they’re the same but their meanings are very different.