Many are unaware of essential distinctions around what the word "custody" actually means when beginning the divorce process. Most of the time, "custody" isn't a "winner takes it all" proposition. Different kinds of custody have entirely separate meanings and need to be considered carefully.

Legal Custody – The Decision Maker

When a judge awards legal custody to a parent, the judge grants that parent the power to make significant decisions about the child's upbringing. Among other things, this includes, but is not limited to, their:

  • religious upbringing
  • medical treatment and choice of doctors
  • schooling
  • psychological care


Sometimes, the judge decrees joint legal custody, in which case both parents will be involved in making those decisions. If the relationship between the ex-spouses is contentious, sharing legal custody can be challenging. The more amicable ex-spouses can be when it comes to joint legal custody decisions around their children, the better it will be for all involved.

If the judge feels that the ex-spouses cannot work out their differences and cannot agree on the significant decisions of a child's life, they will often grant sole legal custody to one parent. Sole legal custody is also common if one parent has never been involved in important decisions for the child or has been neglectful or abusive towards the child. 

Physical Custody – Where the Child Lives

Physical custody is where the child will live on an ongoing basis. Like legal custody, physical custody can be split or decreed to one parent alone.

In many divorce situations, the judge will split physical custody between the parents, such that each parent has the child fifty percent of the time. There are multiple approaches to how to evenly split up parenting time—some divide up the week, others alternate weeks, or sometimes one parent has the child for most of the year, while the other has them for all the major vacations (e.g., spring, summer and winter break). How to split parenting time is determined on a case by case basis. If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, then the court may intervene. 

In the case of sole physical custody, it is important to remember that the non-custodial parent still has visitation rights. Disagreement about what precisely the visitation schedule should look like is often what ex-spouses fight about in court. 

There Are Many Possibilities When It Comes to Custody

“Custody” is not always as straightforward as you may initially think. When it comes to your children, it is essential to consult a professional for the best outcome in court. Contact Park Family Law.

Whether you need an experienced mediator to amicably and efficiently settle your case or an aggressive litigator to get you the best results in court, Park Family Law can assist you every step of the way.