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Understanding legal and physical custody in California

When you go through a divorce in California, custody decisions are going to have to be made regarding your children. While some people think of custody as a single thing that has to be established, the reality is that there are two different types. The first is legal custody, and the second is physical custody.

Physical custody is easy enough to understand. It just pertains to where your child will live and which parent he or she will live with. Of course, in joint custody cases, the child may move back and forth between the homes. Alternatively, a child may live only in one home the majority of the time and then visit the other parent on a set schedule; this is common since it does not disrupt the child’s life as much, as the best interests of the child always have to be considered.

Legal custody, on the other hand, relates more to your power to make choices and decisions on your child’s behalf. You could have to address things like:

  • Where the child is going to go to church
  • Where he or she will go to school
  • Where medical care will be obtained, if needed
  • Where the child would get counseling or other such care
  • Where the child can go to camp, what sports he or she can play and other allowed activities

Parents may not always agree on these things, which is why legal custody is so important. Though the same parent could end up with the primary control in both a legal and a physical sense, it is still important to know the differences between the two.

Source: California Courts, “Basics of Custody & Visitation Orders,” Accessed Dec. 3, 2014 

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