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The difference between legal and physical custody

Trying to get custody of your children means more than just trying to get them to live with you, but that’s what many people mean when they say they want custody. They assume that the court is going to decide which parent keeps the children in the same way they decide who keeps the house or the dog.

That’s not how it works, in part because custody is far more complex than that. To get started, let’s take a look at the two main types.

Physical custody

As you may expect, physical custody does deal with where the children live and which parent cares for them. It’s usually not sole custody, though, but gets split between the parents. Even in a case where the kids live with one parent all the time, the other may get weekend visits, overnight visits or at least supervised visitation options. Courts try very hard to keep both parents involved.

Legal custody

Legal custody has nothing to do with where the children live and everything to do with the decisions parents need to make for their children. These can include things like which doctor they see or where they go to school. Legal custody determines who can make these choices. Keep in mind that a parent may not get physical custody, but could still get legal custody — and the other way around.

Your options

You must understand your options and all of the details surrounding custody of your children. Be sure you look into this carefully long before you get to court.