The Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody

Some people in Tennessee might think of which parent a child will be living with when they think about custody, but there are actually two different kinds. Physical custody refers to where a child lives, but legal custody involves making decisions about major aspects of a child’s life. This includes what health care the child receives, where he or she goes to school, the religious tradition the child is brought up in and more.

While joint custody may be shared or only one parent may have custody while the other person has visitation rights, legal custody is nearly always shared. An exception is if a parent is unfit. A history of abuse, neglect or addiction might preclude a parent from being awarded legal custody. As with physical custody, the court bases all its decision on the child’s best interests. In these situations, one parent might have both sole legal and physical custody.

However, it is more common for a court to decide that it is in the child’s best interests for both parents to be equal participants in this kind of decision-making. Many families have a split custody situation in which legal custody is shared, but physical custody is not.

People should keep in mind that just because one individual has sole physical custody does not mean that the other parent will only see the child occasionally. Visitation can still add up to a substantial amount of time with the child depending on the schedule parents draw up. People should also consider making plans for vacations and holidays as part of the visitation schedule since this reduces uncertainty and the likelihood of conflict. Often, child custody and visitation can be negotiated outside of court instead of having to go before a judge.

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