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The difference between legal and physical child custody

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2020 | Child Custody |

While there are many different areas of concern during divorce, parents often have a main priority — their children. Sorting out child custody is not always easy though, and for many parents it can even be confusing. Part of the confusion may stem from different terms, such as legal or physical custody. Understanding the difference can help Alabama parents better move forward with this process.

When a parent has legal custody, he or she has the legal authority to make a variety of decisions on the child’s behalf. It is fairly common for parents to share legal custody regardless of what physical custody arrangement they may have, meaning both parents have the right to make decisions. These decisions may involve:

  • Education
  • Religion
  • Medical care

Physical custody refers to who the child actually lives with. Perhaps the most commonly recognized situation is one in which one parent maintains primary physical custody while the other parent has smaller periods of visitation. Joint physical custody is becoming more popular, though. This involves a child living with both parents for roughly equal periods of time.

Every family in Alabama is unique, so child custody arrangements cannot be a one size fits all solution. Instead, parents may want to consider sharing both physical and legal custody, or to have one parent maintain primary physical but share joint legal custody. What is most important is that the custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. When parents are unable to agree on what those best interests are, it is helpful to seek guidance from a knowledgeable attorney.