Custody rights to the children tend to be one of the most hotly contested issues of any divorce—but most people think of custody as being one "all-inclusive" thing, which isn't accurate. Custody is split into two different categories: physical and legal. It's important to understand the difference before you start hashing out the terms of any agreement with your spouse. Here's what you need to know.
Physical custody refers to who has the actual children.
Physical custody is the legal right to keep the children in your custody, for whatever periods of time the agreement between you and your spouse eventually stipulates. Some couples opt for a joint or "shared" physical custody that gives each parent alternating time with the children on an equal basis.
The problem with that arrangement is that it can be difficult on the kids to shift houses every week. While it often works out okay for very young children who aren't as particular about where they sleep or what they do during the day, older kids who have started to develop friends and like to have their own rooms around them might not find that model agreeable. It can also be complicated if you and your ex-spouse end up living in different school zones.
An alternative arrangement gives one parent primary physical custody but liberal visitation rights to the other parent. This usually means that the parent without primary custody would get the kids on the weekends and during at least half of the summer vacation. Some visitation models are less liberal, giving the non-custodial parent only every other weekend and a couple weeks in the summer, and probably alternating holidays.
Legal custody refers to your right to make decisions for your child.
Legal custody refers to your right to make the important decisions about your child's healthcare, education, religious instruction, and other matters that might affect their development and well-being. It operates independently of physical custody.
That means that even if circumstances make it hard for you to have anything other than fairly limited visitation with your child, you can still have an important voice in how your child is raised. The parent with physical custody can't change the "status quo" on anything important in your child's life without your agreement or a judge's order permitting the change.
For example, if you and your spouse had agreed to raise the children in your Catholic faith, and your spouse decides to drop out of the church after your divorce, he or she would still have to continue making sure that the children went to church, had their first communion, and so on, unless you agreed that they could also stop attending church.
Talk to your attorney like Joanna Cobleigh Esq to get more information about the different ways that physical and legal custody can affect your situation. Ultimately, the goal is to find an agreement that puts the children first but gives each parent an important role in their children's lives.
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