Close this search box.

Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody

About 42%-53% of marriages in the US end in divorce. Separating from a partner is rarely easy, but when there’s a child involved, it can make things far more complicated. One of the key things that must be addressed is the custody of the child (or children). It’s important to know how things can pan out and what you should expect. In this guide, we’ll discuss legal custody and physical custody, and how they differ. Keep reading for more.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is simply the right of a parent to keep their child in their home and make day-to-day choices on their behalf. This implies that either one or both parents would be in charge of offering security, a proper living space, and any amenities that could be required. In Florida, a court would ordinarily decide in favor of joint physical custody so that each parent may have frequent contact with their child. This is is no longer called custody, but called parenting time or time sharing in Florida.

Sole Physical Custody With Visitation

With sole physical custody, children will generally live with one parent, and the other will have designated visitation time. This used to be the norm, but it’s becoming less common.

Depending on the situation, this can still sometimes be the best choice. This may be if the parents don’t live close to each other, as this can make it more difficult for the children to go back and forth constantly. It’s also ideal if one parent can’t provide suitable care – usually due to housing instability, substance abuse, or mental health issues.

When the decision is made for sole physical custody, a judge will usually try to ensure the other parent has sufficient contact with their children. For example, if the parents live far from each other, the noncustodial parent might have the children over long school breaks.

Joint or Shared Physical Custody

This decision will split the time more evenly so that both parents have a reasonable amount of time with their children. This allows both parents to stay involved in their children’s lives.

In many cases, the judge will begin by assuming that this is the best option. Either parent can then disagree, but they need to be able to provide evidence to support their claim.

Note that joint physical custody is rarely a perfect 50-50 split. A common arrangement is for a child to spend school nights with one parent, then weekends with the other. This type of solution is only viable when both parents live close to each other.

What Is Legal Custody?

Legal custody refers to a parent being allowed to make significant decisions about their children, regardless of whether that parent was given physical custody. This includes things like:

  • Medical and health care (which doctors they see, vaccinations, therapy, etc.)
  • What schools they go to or the education they receive
  • What extracurricular activities they take part in (music lessons, sports, etc.)
  • Religious studies and instruction

Other elements may also be included, depending on what state holds jurisdiction over the agreement. In Texas, for example, it also covers managing conservatorship.

Joint or Shared Legal Custody

Even when separated, the parents of children often still make decisions together. This can be beneficial for the family as well as the judge. It’s based on the idea that if both parents are fit to make decisions, then they should both have the right to have an input on how their children are raised.

In this situation, just one of the parents usually will make routine decisions such as scheduling doctor’s appointments. Ideally, the parents will discuss who will do this and put it in writing as part of the divorce agreement. This will help keep things organized throughout the custody agreements. 

 Because the term custody is no longer used in relation to family law cases in Florida, it’s often referred to as shared parental responsibility.

When Do Judges Award Sole Legal Custody?

While it’s often preferable to give both parents a say in decisions for their children, sometimes one parent will be given sole legal custody. This is when it’s clear that it’s the best decision for the children overall.

This may happen if there has been a history of neglect or domestic abuse towards the other parent or the children. Another reason a judge may grant sole custody is if one parent has little to no involvement in the children’s daily life.

The judge may also make this decision if one parent has a substance abuse problem or suffers from a serious mental illness, as this may affect their ability to make reasonable decisions.

Joint legal custody may be the ideal solution, but it can also cause a lot of problems. The parents may end up going back to court if they can’t agree on things.

If this happens consistently, the judge may change the custody to sole legal custody. This is especially likely if one parent keeps making decisions about the children while ignoring any objections from the other parent.

Shared Parenting Plans

Shared parenting plans can be created in the divorce agreement. They involve detailed schedules for various elements of the children’s lives. This includes things such as school drop-off schedules, where they spend birthdays, holidays, etc., and any unforeseen changes in the schedule.

Parents can often deal with this themselves but may get the help of their lawyers, custody mediation, or both. After deciding on a plan, the parents can present it to the court. As long as these appear to be in the children’s best interest, a judge will almost always approve these plans.

When Parents Can’t Agree on a Parenting Plan

There can be cases where the parents cannot agree about the legal or physical custody of their children. When this happens, each parent can propose a parenting plan and submit it to the court. A judge will then assess these plans along with any other evidence to come to a final decision about the custody arrangement.

Boyer Family Law Attorneys: Ensure the Best for Your Child’s Future

If you’re considering a divorce and need assistance with the physical or legal custody of your children, Boyer Law Firm can help. We have lawyers that specialize in family law, as well as various other areas, throughout Florida. Send us a message using our online contact form, or call (904)236-5317.

Share This:

Call Now