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What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

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When parents with young children split up, they have to find a way to share parental responsibilities. In some cases, parents can reach a mutually agreeable decision regarding how they divide their responsibilities and parenting time. Other times, it will be necessary for a Georgia family law judge to look at information about the family and make decisions about splitting custody.

If a couple goes to court to settle a custody dispute, the judge will assign both legal and physical custody to the parents. What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

Physical custody

When people talk about shared custody, usually what they refer to is shared physical custody or active parenting time with the children. The courts typically like to see both parents spending time with the children on a regular basis.

By keeping both of the parents actively involved through shared physical custody, they seek to uphold the children’s best interests and preserve their crucial parental bonds. In cases where one parent is incapable of providing for the needs of the children or puts them at risk, a judge may give the other parent sole physical custody.

Legal custody

A parent doesn’t just spend time with their child, feed them and house them. They also guide them and help them develop into a healthy adult. Legal custody is a big part of that process, as it confers decision-making authority to parents about important matters like medical care, education and religious training.

In a contested custody scenario, a judge made divide legal custody. Other times, they may give one parent sole legal custody even if they have split physical custody between the parents. Understanding the term the courts will use during custody proceedings can help you advocate for your relationship with your children.

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