Joint and Sole Legal and Physical Child Custody Explained

If you and your child's other parent are separated or divorced, determining child custody is probably one of your primary concerns. Child custody comes in two forms – legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody of a child refers to the obligation to make major long-term decisions about the child's upbringing, while physical custody refers to with which parent the child lives. Although the two types of custody differ in nature, they include the two same options: sole custody and joint custody.

When it comes to legal custody, most states have a tendency to award custody to both parents rather than sole custody, unless it is apparent that one parent is somehow unfit or incapable of making decisions about the child's life. Decisions that parents with legal custody make involve health, welfare, religion and education. Choices must be made in conjunction with the other parent's resources and must not place the other parent in financial jeopardy.

Unlike most legal custody determinations, physical custody is generally awarded to one parent, called the “custodial” parent. In most sole physical custody scenarios the child will reside at one parent's home, and the non-custodial parent will be allowed generous visitation rights, including sleepovers. In years past, joint physical custody arrangements in which parents would split time with the child evenly were more common. Now, joint custody is awarded lest often in order to minimize chaos and disruption in the child's routine.

In both sole physical and sole legal custody arrangements, the non-custodial parent is still allowed certain rights. A non-custodial parent is still entitled to copies of the child's medical records, may obtain school records, and depending on the court order is usually allowed to spend ample amount of time with the child.

If a custodial parent schedules an activity for the child during a time at which the non-custodial parent was awarded visitation time, the noncustodial parent can refuse to let the child attend such activities. Parents are required to act in the best interests of the child, and urged to continue a working relationship with each other.

Tara Yelman is a San Diego Family Lawyer originally from New York. She began practicing law in 1995 after graduating California Western School of Law and in 2005 She became a San Diego County family law settlement judge. She is currently the Managing partner of Yelman & Associates.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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