The difference between legal custody and physical custody
There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. In almost all cases, both of the custody types are shared between the parents.
Typically, parents are awarded joint legal custody, which means that the parents must share in decision making regarding the children and that the parents have equal rights to the child’s medical and educational records.
Ultimately, one parent will be awarded final decision-making authority for times when the parents are unable to reach a mutual decision. Typically, the final decision goes to the parent who has primary physical custody. (Note: physical custody is, in most cases, also shared.)
The significance of frequently awarding joint legal custody is that the parent who has visitation rights or secondary physical custody of the children cannot be cut out of the decision-making process regarding any major issues involving the children.
Joint legal custody has nothing to do with where the children live. Typically, there is one parent designated as the primary physical custodian and the other parent receives secondary physical custody.
The courts determine physical custody based on several factors, but most jurisdictions place great importance on who has been the child(ren)’s primary caregiver during the course of the marriage.
It is not customary for a court to order 50-50 physical custody. It has become a recurring theme in custody cases that joint physical is not favorable for the children.
Many judges are of the school of thought that a child should have one place to call home, one place that is their norm, and one place to keep them from bouncing back and forth too often.