Legal custody refers to the parent having legal authority to make decisions over important aspects of the child’s life, including education, health care, religion and general welfare. Legal custody also determines if the parent will have access to school and medical documents. In most cases, parents share legal custody, even if one parent has primary physical custody of the child. In contrast with physical custody, legal custody has nothing to do with where the child actually lives.
Physical custody refers to where the child holds primary residence and which parent is responsible for day-to-day care of the child. The courts recognize the importance of both parents playing a meaningful role in the child’s life. If parents share joint physical custody, the child will spend significant periods of time living with each parent.
In determining physical custody, most courts place significant importance on which parent has been the primary caregiver prior to the divorce or separation. While physical custody does not typically result in a 50-50 share, the courts do favor the non-custodial parent being more than just a weekend mom or dad.
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