Understanding the Differences Between Legal & Physical Custody

Hossein Berenji, Jan 10, 2018

Funnyman Bill Hader, best known for his time on Saturday Night Live, recently filed for divorce from his wife after 11 years of marriage. Hader and his wife have two children together who will be affected by the split. In order to finalize the divorce, Hader and his wife will have to agree on a custody arrangement for their children. In California, there are actually two distinct types of child custody: legal and physical. Each type of custody refers to a different set of rights a parent will have in regard to their children. According to early reports, it appears as though Hader has requested joint physical and legal custody of the kids.

Legal Custody

What is legal custody?

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions about the health and well-being of their child. For example, a parent with legal custody of a child is empowered to make decisions about what type of medical care they receive and where they go to school.

Who gets legal custody?

California courts prefer to award both parents joint legal custody of their children. This helps to preserve the balance of power and maintain important parental rights. Courts will be hesitant to award sole legal custody to a parent unless it is demonstrated that the other parent is not fit to make important life decisions for their child. Drug and/or alcohol addictions, psychological issues, or a pattern of criminal conduct could potentially cause a court to make adverse custody decisions.

Do parents with joint legal custody have to agree on all decisions?

No. In fact, parents who share legal custody of a child do not have to sit down and talk about every aspect of the child’s life. Instead, parents can make decisions on their own, as long as those decisions are in the best interest of the child. However, it is best for parents who share joint legal custody to discuss most decisions that are made. Unilateral decisions and disputes can escalate quickly, requiring the intervention of a court. This can be expensive, time-consuming, and add unnecessary stress to the situation.

Physical Custody

What is physical custody?

Physical custody refers to a parent’s right to be present in their child’s life. Put another way, physical custody refers to where a child will live. Once again, California courts prefer when parents share joint physical custody of their children. Joint physical custody helps to ensure that a child will maintain frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce or separation.

What does a joint physical custody arrangement look like?

When parents have joint physical custody the child will generally split time between their parent’s individual homes. This could mean that a child lives with Parent A during the week and Parent B on weekends, or that the child spends 6 months with Parent A and 6 months with Parent B. The specific arrangement will depend on what is best for the child and the parent’s individual schedules. Generally, joint custody means that parents are entitled to spend an equal amount of time with their kids.

What happens when sole physical custody is awarded?

Sometimes a court may decide that a child’s parent is not fit to have physical custody of a child. Maybe that parent has a drug problem, is affected by psychological issues, or has displayed violent tendencies. Whatever the reason, the court decides that one parent should be awarded primary (or sole) custody of the kids. When this happens, the child will stay with the custodial parent permanently. The non-custodial parent may be awarded visitation rights, giving them the right to see their children.

What is visitation?

Visitation rights are awarded to non-custodial parents to allow them to legally see their children. Visitation can be supervised or unsupervised, depending on the situation. The terms of visitation are set by the court and must be followed by the parents. A custodial parent cannot prevent a parent with visitation rights from seeing their children. At the same time, the rights of parents with visitation are limited to the terms imposed by the court. Parents who willfully violate the terms of custody and visitation agreements can face civil and criminal charges.

Experienced Los Angeles Child Custody Attorney

Are you thinking about separating from your spouse and are concerned about the wellbeing of your children? Call the Los Angeles child custody attorneys at Berenji & Associates to schedule a free case evaluation. We will listen to your concerns, explain the options for child custody arrangements, and help you fight for what you want.