What’s the difference between “legal” and “physical” custody?

On Behalf of | Jul 4, 2022 | Child Custody |

Finding yourself wrapped up in a legal proceeding involving child custody can be emotional and stressful. Every day, there are parents in New York who must navigate complex relationships between themselves and their children – and the other parent.

Whether the parents are divorced or were never married to begin with, your first encounter with a child custody issue might leave you with more questions than answers. It is probably best to start with the most basic question: What is the difference between “legal” custody and “physical” custody?

The answer is fairly straightforward. “Physical” custody refers to where the child will reside for the majority of the time. If only one parent has physical custody, the child will live with that parent and the other parent will have visitation rights. If the parents have “joint” physical custody, the child will usually spend nights at both parents’ houses, based on a set schedule, in most cases.

“Legal” custody is about the right to make major decisions about how the child will be raised. If, for example, one of the parents has “sole” legal custody, that parent has the right to make decisions about where the child will attend school or church, or even what type of healthcare treatment the child might receive.

However, in many cases, family law judges will order “joint” legal custody, meaning that both parents have input and, for the most part, must agree on these major decisions.

Your unique family dynamics

It is important to remember that, for as many questions about child custody as you might have, your unique family dynamics will typically play a role in how the issue is decided. For more information about how our law firm attempts to help New York residents with these issues, please visit the child custody overview section of our law firm’s website.


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