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Physical and legal custody: What's the difference?

If you've recently separated from an ex that you share a child with, then you're likely only now beginning to understand all the different legal jargon used to define a parent's custodial rights.

While you've likely heard the terminology legal and physical custody thrown about before, what you may not know is that there are many different subcategories to each of these types of arrangements. Whichever role you're asked to assume can greatly impact what decisions you're allowed to make in your child's life.

When it comes the concept of physical custody, it has to do with where your child will primarily reside. There are two different categories of this that a judge may award to a parent. They include either sole or joint physical custody.

Sole physical custody involves a child residing at a single location with what's referred to as their primary custodial parent. If a parent is assigned this role in his or her child's life, then the other parent, known as the noncustodial parent, is afforded significant visitation privileges with his or her child, to include overnights.

In contrast, with joint physical custody, also commonly referred to as shared parenting, a child lives a portion of his or her week with one parent and the rest with the other. The goal of this type of arrangement is to ensure that a child spends equal amounts of time living with both parents.

As you've pondered how to share your child with your ex, you've also likely heard the term legal custody thrown about. It has to do with which parent is authorized to make certain child rearing, school-related and medical decisions on behalf of their son or daughter.

A parent awarded sole legal custody is the only one allowed to make major decisions having to do with religion, education or medical care for his or her child.

In contrast, a parent awarded joint legal custody affords both parents the legal authority to share in making major decisions having to do with their child.

If you've recently separated from your ex and you're trying to sort out an arrangement that will work best for raising your child, then a Fort Myers attorney can provide guidance in your legal matter.

Source: The Spruce, "Types of child custody and visitation," Jennifer Wolf, accessed March 16, 2018

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Thompson Family Law, P.A.
3949 Evans Avenue, Suite 206
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