What is the Difference Between Legal Custody and Physical Custody?

Posted By : Gloria Rodriguez/ 359

In the event that your marriage with your spouse turns sour and both of you fall out of love, the best thing that you can do for your children would be to file for divorce. I know, it may be counterintuitive, especially in cultures where family resembles a strong unit.

owever, in some cases, the dissolution of marriage is a good thing because there are times where it is so unbearable to live with your spouse and you no longer feel happy with them. If anything, it would only result in a lot of conflicts- something that you do not want your children to see.

To initiate and file a petition for divorce, you can either get a family or divorce attorney that will represent you. Should you file for a joint petition, then you will only need one attorney, but if only one of you will file for a petition, then you will need separate attorneys for the matter.

Now, assuming that you have children, who get to have custody? Well, that is really a complex matter and you would have to consider plenty of factors before a resolution can be reached.

But, you might have heard two terms regarding this matter such as legal custody and physical custody. This article will try to explain what the differences are so that you will know.

What is Legal Custody?

Legal custody refers to the authority granted by the court that will allow both or either of the parents to make decisions over the safety, welfare, and health of the child/children.

Should the parents have joint custody of their children, they will have an equal say about the decisions that affect their child/children’s welfare.

What is Physical Custody

Also known as ‘care and control’, Physical Custody is where the court will set aside provisions as to how the parents can agree upon matters concerning their child. Things like where the child resides and how much time the parents are given to interact with the child are all part of physical custody.

It is important to note that one parent may spend more time with the child, especially if the other party agrees with this. For instance, the child will be given to the mother and would stay with their mothers for the vast majority of the time; leaving their father to just visit from time to time.

What Are Visitation Rights?

In the above example, the parent (often the father) that doesn’t have custody of the child may be granted by the court to visit their children. This ‘permission’ is known as the visitation rights or access rights in some countries.


Now, you will be given by the court to chance to agree upon the terms of the custody of your children. However, if you and your partner are unable to agree on the terms relating to your children’s welfare, then the court would have to step in.

In essence, the court only wants what is best for the child. In other words, they are more concerned about the welfare of the children as opposed to the marriage or divorce of the parents.