Child custody comes has two primary aspects, physical and legal custody. It’s critical to know the difference between the two when considering a divorce involving minor children.

As the name suggests, physical custody involves where the child lives and who is physically with the child. Often, this is what people think of when considering custody issues for the first time. Physical custody arrangements can be sole custody, with the child only living with one parent, or joint custody, with the child splitting time between both homes.

Legal custody involves the authority to make big decisions that parents have to resolve for the kids. These could include things like medical decisions and where the child enrolls in school. Again, this authority can be awarded to one parent or shared jointly.

Both kinds of custody can also get split up. For example, both parents may have joint legal custody, meaning they both get to have a say when making important choices about raising the child. They both have a right to come see the child in the hospital, for instance, or to deal with the child’s finances.

However, physical custody may only go to one of the parents. This could be due to the other parent not having a stable living situation or the proximity of the home of one parent to the child’s school. Things do not always have to be divided up the same way, and every case is different. The court will weigh many different factors and will always try to seek out the child’s best interests.

If you and your spouse are getting divorced and you have kids, make sure you really know what parental rights and obligations you have, both before and after the case is resolved.

Source: FindLaw, “Types of Child Custody,” accessed Jan. 22, 2018