What is the difference between legal and physical custodyThis is a very common, and exceedingly important question. It matters because as a parent in the midst of a divorce proceeding, you’ve got to have a clear understanding of the terms and what their implications are, in order to make the best decisions possible when it comes to deciding on matters of custody. Note too, that what you agree to in a separation agreement may, or may not be upheld by a judge when you go to court. It’s fine (and in fact, recommended) if you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse get those details sorted out in advance, but if there’s a compelling case to be made for altering your agreement, the judge may well do so, and his or her word is final.

In any case, the two big terms you need to be familiar with are legal custody, and physical custody. Of the two, physical custody tends to be the most straightforward. This is simply where the child lives. Your home, or your spouse’s home. As you can imagine, while fairly straightforward, this is probably going to be a major sticking point for the divorcing couple, as odds are good that both will want physical custody. While it is possible to establish joint physical custody, this tends to be difficult on the children involved, even if it appeases both parents.

Legal custody, on the other hand, defines who has the right to make legal decisions about the child. This would include things like where the child goes to school, whether or not the child will participate in religious activities, what those activities will be, and most significantly, whether a child should, or should not receive medical care. This is especially important during times of emergencies, when immediate decisions must be made.

The bottom line is that both are extremely important and impactful, but they are two quite different things.