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What is the difference between physical and legal custody?

Understanding family law is difficult. When one is right in the middle of a family law issue, he or she will likely find the whole process overwhelming and complicated. Though some legal terms are commonly used, their legal meaning is not clear to a layperson, and understanding them is very important. One of these concepts is child custody.

There are different types of child custody, and they involve the physical and legal custody of the child or children in question. Physical custody is the most common custody factor focused on. When someone has been granted physical custody that means the court has allowed the child to live with that parent. Most states, including New York, prefer awarding joint physical custody, which means the children live with both parents for significant amounts of time. This however, is only possible when both parents plan on living close to each other. Sole custody on the other hand is when the child lives primarily with one parent and the other has limited visitation or custody rights.

Legal custody on the other hand refers to the authority to make decisions about the child's welfare, education and on other important matters. Courts generally award joint legal custody, allowing both parents the right to make these important decisions. This is possible regardless of the type of physical custody the couple has. It should be noted that joint legal custody does not have to be accompanied by joint physical custody.

As a custody determination is perhaps one of the most important award a court grants in the midst of divorce proceedings, understanding the terminology is crucial. An experienced family law attorney may be able to provide more guidance during a divorce.

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