What is legal custody of a child?

During your divorce, you quickly realize that preserving your relationships with your children are the most important part of the process to you. You start looking into your custody rights, and you assume that legal custody is a term that just means who has custody of the child. Is this true?

Not entirely. The truth is that custody comes in two forms: Legal and physical. They’re related and often work together, but they’re also quite different. 

Making decisions vs. physical location

The easiest way to think about this is to note that physical custody refers to the child’s physical location. The child lives with you when you have physical custody, for instance, and lives with your ex when they do. 

Legal custody, on the other hand, is all about making decisions. What religion are you going to raise your children in? Where are they going to go to school? What types of medical treatment are they permitted to get? If there is an emergency, which doctor should they use?

These are just a few examples, but parents have to make a lot of choices for their kids. Legal custody determines who is allowed to do so. It may be you and your spouse, or it may be just one of you. It is also possible to have legal custody and not physical custody. Do not assume that they always have to be handed out together. 

What are your rights?

As you start the divorce process, you need to know about your rights as a parent. With the right focus, you can fight to protect those valuable relationships with your children.