When a parent has legal custody of their children, it means they are responsible for making decisions about the important things in their lives, such as what educational instruction they receive, their religious preferences, any important medical decisions, and where they go to school. When a couples is together, they usually jointly make these decisions, but upon separation either one or both parents can continue making these decisions.
The couples can jointly share legal custody or a parent can request sole legal custody, which would mean that parent would make all of these decisions and keep the other parent informed. The default option is usually shared legal custody. If parents frequently fight over decision making, one parent lives far away, or if one parent is abusive and neglectful, a court may find that is in the best interest for one parent to have sole legal custody.
When a parent has physical custody of their children, it refers to which parent the children are residing with on a day to day basis. If parents choose to share physical time of their children, they can request “joint physical custody,” which means that each parent will have equal time with the children. Joint physical custody works in situations where parents live close to one another, so the children can move back and forth between their parents house and maintain their school and recreational activities.
If one parents would like to have more than fifty percent of the physical custody time with their children, then this parent would receive primary physical custody and the other parent would receive partial physical custody. Situations where parents would choose this arrangement are where one parents lives further away. The partial custodial parent could request alternating weekend visits and a few weekday evening visit with their children.
If one parent has the children the majority of the time and would like to maintain this type of custody, this parent may be granted sole custody of the children. This is usually granted in situations where one parent is deemed unfit due to abuse or neglect.
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