Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

Explained by Our Houston Child Visitation Rights Attorney

Image of a Baby BottleCourts divide child custody into two types – legal custody and physical custody. Within each type of custody, there are further subdivisions, depending on whether the custody is sole or joint. These decisions can result in complicated situations. For instance, parents could share legal custody over a child (the ability to make major decisions), but only one of them could have physical custody (where the child is living). Additionally, it can be difficult for the two parents to determine what constitutes a ‘major decision’ in the first place. A Houston family lawyer is available if you need help making a child custody determination.

Legal Custody

A parent with legal custody has the power to make major decisions that affect his or her child’s life. These types of decisions include:

  • Where the child will attend school
  • Medical care
  • Religious upbringing

Courts divide legal custody further into sole legal custody or joint legal custody. A parent with sole legal custody is the only one who makes major decisions for the child. This can be a great benefit, as it makes decision-making easier because just one person is involved. There will also be more consistency in the child’s life.

With joint legal custody, both parents share the major decision-making. This arrangement can work even if only one of the parents has physical custody. Joint legal custody can be terrific if the parents are able to interact and make decisions harmoniously. A child can benefit from seeing his or her parents getting along and collaborating. Of course, if parents cannot cooperate well, joint legal custody can be disastrous, exposing a child to harsh conflict and making decisions more complicated than necessary.

Physical Custody

Physical custody enables a child to live with a particular parent. Sole physical custody occurs when a child lives primarily with one parent. Courts will then grant visitation rights to the other parent. Courts are likely to grant sole physical custody when the other parent is deemed unfit, perhaps suffering from some sort of substance abuse, or is suspected of child abuse or neglect. A Houston child visitation rights attorney can advise of you the best physical custody option for you and your family.

Sometimes a court will grant joint physical custody to both parents. This is ideal when the child spends a lot of time with both parents and the parents live somewhat close to each other. In determining a joint physical custody arrangement, courts will first look to the parents to create one. If they are unable to agree on one, a court will impose one. A joint physical custody arrangement may involve alternating months or years between parents, or splitting weekdays and weekends.

A somewhat new concept in physical custody is bird’s nest custody. In this arrangement, a child maintains a single residence, and the parents rotate living with him or her. Each parent takes turns residing at the “bird’s nest” with the child. Though this provides some consistency in the child’s life, the drawback of this arrangement is that it can be a bit expensive to maintain three residences.

If you are confused about a child custody determination, contact a Houston visitation rights lawyer at John K. Grubb & Associates, PC to learn more about child custody.

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