What are the differences between legal and physical custody?

When a California family law court awards custody of a child, it will award two types of custody: legal and physical. It is important that you understand what each means the differences between the two types of custody, as your understanding will help you gain a better idea of your rights and responsibilities as a parent. The Judicial Branch of California explains the differences between legal and physical custody in depth.

When the courts assign legal custody, they essential decide which parent will make important decisions for the child. Such decisions involve healthcare, education, religion and other choices regarding the child’s welfare. The courts may award one of two types of legal custody: joint or sole.

When parents share joint legal custody, they both get to make decisions regarding the important factors of the child’s life. However, when the courts award sole legal custody, only one guardian gets executive rights and responsibilities. Parents with legal custody of their children get to make decisions regarding the following:

  • Religion
  • Afterschool activities
  • Healthcare
  • Travel
  • Residence
  • School or child care

Physical custody refers to with whom the child will live. Like with legal custody, there are two types of custody the courts may award: joint or sole. When parents share joint custody, the child will live with both parents. However, this does not necessarily mean the child will spend equal time with both parents. Typically, the courts award one parent slightly more physical custody. The courts then refer to that parent as the “primary custodial parent.”

The courts will rarely award sole custody. However, when they do, it means the child will live primarily with one parent and visit the other.

This content is for educational purposes only. You should not use it as legal advice.

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