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What's the difference between legal and physical custody?

Divorce introduces people to a whole new vocabulary. If you're dealing with custody negotiations, you'll hear the terms "legal custody" and "physical custody." It's essential to understand the difference.

Physical custody refers to where the children actually live. Generally, it's best parents can agree on a joint physical custody arrangement so that the kids can spend quality time with both of them. The parent with physical custody at a particular time generally will make decisions regarding things like bedtime and how much TV or computer time the kids can have.

Legal custody is a very different matter. Sometimes one parent will be granted sole legal custody of the children. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the other parent can spend time with them or even share physical custody. If a parent is granted sole legal custody, it means that he or she has the authority over major aspects of a child's life including health care, education and what religious teachings the child will follow.

Ideally, parent share legal custody and both have a say in such matters. Even if one parent seeks and is granted sole legal custody, that doesn't mean that the other parent is forbidden from weighing in. In reality, many couples make these decisions together even if the custody agreement names just one as having sole legal custody. You may want to seek sole legal custody so that you are the final decision-maker if you and your ex have a serious disagreement.

It's always best for everyone -- particularly the children involved -- if parents can work out physical and legal custody arrangements on their own with the help of their attorneys. If they can't, a judge will make the decision based on what is in the best interests of the children.

Source: Huffington Post, "Top Three Lessons In Divorce From Brangelina," Nicole H. Sodoma, Sep. 28, 2016

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