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What is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Child Custody?

Divorcing parents will typically share custody of their children, unless one parent is deemed unfit to serve in any sort of custodial role. That custody is split into two elements: legal and physical. The arrangement parents have for legal custody might not be exactly the same as physical custody, and vice versa.

Here’s a quick overview of what these two terms mean and how they differ.

Legal custody

Legal custody refers to the responsibility of each spouse for making decisions about their child’s upbringing, including education, religion, healthcare and general discipline and child raising.

The vast majority of divorced parents have joint legal custody, meaning they share the responsibility for raising children. One parent might be classified as the primary caregiver, meaning they might be tasked with certain decisions, but the other parent will still have a legal right to participate in discussions about those issues.

Judges may grant sole legal custody if one parent is abusive or neglectful, lives very far away or simply isn’t involved in the child’s life.

Physical custody

Physical custody refers to where the children live. They may spend time living with both parents or may just live with one. If a parent does not have physical custody, they will still have visitation rights in the majority of cases.

The structure of physical custody and visitation arrangements depends on what a judge believes to be in the best interest of the children. Visitation can take many forms, including supervised or unsupervised, and may involve overnight stays or may only be for a couple hours at a time.

For more information about the differences between physical and legal child custody, contact an experienced Minnesota family lawyer at Appelhof, Pfeifer & Hart, P.A.

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