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What is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody



One of the most difficult aspects of family law is determining child custody.  There are two types of custody--legal and physical custody.  
    
Legal custody refers to the authority to make major decisions on behalf of minor children.  Major decisions include where will the children attend school, what religion will they practice, and whether and when they will receive medical treatment.  Legal custody can be "joint", meaning the parties consult one another and reach joint decisions.  Legal custody can also be "sole", meaning that one party makes major decisions on behalf of the children.
    
Physical or residential custody refers to where will the children primarily reside.  "Sole" residential custody means that the minor children reside primarily with one parent and have fewer than 129 overnight visits per year with the other parent.  "Shared" residential custody means that the children reside primarily with one parent but have 129 or more overnight visits per year with the other parent.  Shared custody can include equal or 50-50% custody whereby the parties have 183 and 182 overnights per year.
    
Shared physical or residential custody usually requires a finding that the parties can communicate effectively about the children and reach joint decisions.   It is also usually necessary (particularly for school aged children) that the parties live in close proximity to one another.  Other factors include whether shared custody would disrupt the educational or extracurricular activities of the minor children or disrupt natural family bonds.

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