Q: Is there a difference between physical and legal custody?
A: Yes, and it's an important difference.
Physical custody refers to the the parent's custodial right to have the child in their care, during whatever time frames the court order directs, or during all times when the other parent is not afforded specific times for visitation/custody with the child. There is sole physical custody, where one parent is the primary custodian of the child, and the other parent is granted periods of visitation (including overnight visitation) with the child; and there is shared or joint physical custody, where the times with each parent may be more equal, or unstated, with both parents having equal custodial rights (or the times may be set forth, like alternating 3 days/4 days, etc.).
Legal custody can also be sole or shared/joint. Having legal custody means that parent has the right to make all major decisions regarding the child's health, education, welfare, religion, upbringing, etc. Even where a court grants one parent sole legal and physical custody and the other parent visitation rights on a set schedule, the court can grant to the non-legal custodian parent the right to participate in certain major decisions affecting the child's health care, education, etc.
The amount of overnight time a parent has physical custody of their child, along with the combined incomes of both parties, largely determines the amount of child support one parent pays to the other.
Justia Ask a Lawyer is a forum for consumers to get answers to basic legal questions. Any information sent through Justia Ask a Lawyer is not secure and is done so on a non-confidential basis only.
The use of this website to ask questions or receive answers does not create an attorney–client relationship between you and Justia, or between you and any attorney who receives your information or responds to your questions, nor is it intended to create such a relationship. Additionally, no responses on this forum constitute legal advice, which must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. You should not act upon information provided in Justia Ask a Lawyer without seeking professional counsel from an attorney admitted or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. Justia assumes no responsibility to any person who relies on information contained on or received through this site and disclaims all liability in respect to such information.
Justia cannot guarantee that the information on this website (including any legal information provided by an attorney through this service) is accurate, complete, or up-to-date. While we intend to make every attempt to keep the information on this site current, the owners of and contributors to this site make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to from this site.