- Legal custody: Legal custody means who makes the decisions about the children’s health, education and welfare. This includes deciding where the children go to school or whether they should get braces on their teeth. If the parents share joint legal custody, both parents can ask schools and doctors for information about the children. It is important to be clear about who makes which decisions so that there is no disagreement later on.
- Physical custody: Physical custody refers to the time the children spend with each parent on a regular basis. For example, the children may be with one parent on school days and the other on weekends plus a mid-week dinner visit. The parents can split the holidays and vacation periods. Sometimes, if the parents live near each other and they get along as parents, the children go back and forth without an exact schedule.
Most parents need a schedule. Joint physical custody is a good choice for parents who can agree on a plan on their own or with a mediator’s help. It requires cooperation, flexibility and good communication between the parents. Sometimes, a judge gives both parents joint legal custody but not joint physical custody. This means both parents have equal responsibility for important decisions in the children’s lives. But, the children live with one parent most of the time. The parent who does not have physical custody usually has scheduled time with the children.
Parents should talk to a lawyer about physical and legal custody before making a final agreement.
For more information, visit: Superior Court of California, County of Alameda.