Child custody is commonly referred to as a singular right, whereby a parent asserts that he or she wants to get “custody” of a child, but in actuality “custody” has two key components: “legal custody” and “physical custody”. Both of these can be divided between the child’s parents, and both can have a significant impact on the relationship with the child.
“Physical custody” is the kind of custody that parents, whether married or unmarried, think of most often when they separate. They want to make sure that the child gets to live with them and spend time with them. Having “physical custody” of the child means the parent has dedicated time, at his or her own residence, when the ex is not involved, thus “physical custody” goes much further than simple “visitation” rights.
In addition to “physical custody”, parents can also get “legal custody”. This type of custody grants the parent the power to make decisions for the child, such as decisions regarding things like what medical care the child will receive, where the child will go to school and more.
Both types of custody can be divided in the same fashion, such that the child will live with each parent 50% of the time and both parents will have the power equally to make decisions for the child. But these custody rights can also be divided very differently, such that a parent for example may be involved in the decision-making process while not having “physical custody” at all but having merely “visitation”. The court can also decide that one parent is able to spend time with the child but not to make critical decisions on the child’s behalf.
It’s important that the parents of a child understand both kinds of custody and fully comprehend the legal options they have.